In the spring of 2002, a friend of mine, Michael Dunleavy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was seven at the time, and was oblivious to his condition. Michael was a fellow student at Tom DeFranzo’s Martial Arts Academy, in my hometown of Winchester. I distinctly remember us calling him “Helium Man”, because whenever he was proud of himself, he puffed up his chest in the most heart warming of ways. But as the leaves fell off the trees, it seemed to get worse. Then, Michael disappeared. By that time, I was eight, but I still wasn’t old enough to notice the change in the air of the classroom. On October 28, 2002, my mother told me that Tom “Sir” DeFranzo had left a message. Michael had died.
The next time I got to class, Sir was there with a almost empty box of tissues on the floor. He invited the mothers to sit with us on the floor of the studio. He told us the story of how Michael had fought hard, but the tumor got the best of him. The words slurred on the way to my ears as it finally sank in, my friend was gone. A few tears rolled down my face, as I held my mom tight, as if I could hide from the fact that he was gone.
An extrordinary part of this story is Sir’s. Tom DeFranzo has taught me everything I know about Tae Kwon Do, and even more about life. Shortly before that fateful day, the twenty-eighth day of October, Sir presented Michael with his well-earned black belt. Michael’s picture stands above the top of the flags in the studio, a place reserved only for black belts. Tom DeFranzo has run the Boston Marathon multiple times for Michael.
But, even bigger than running the oldest marathon in America, is the Michael Dunleavy foundation. Every year, there is a Michael Dunleavy Road Race going through Winchester. The starting line at the Vinson-Owen School, the trail loops around for five kilometers, and then the runners finish satisfied with what they’ve done to change the world. When I first ran it, I expected a few people to show up, but I had misjudged human kindness. It looked as if the few of the twenty thousand citizens of Winchester who weren’t running for Michael had set up water stations across the trail. I saw people running who I had never thought would get up off the couch, let alone donate money for someone they probably didn’t know that well.
Around me, I felt a community. I didn’t know half these people, and yet, we were one. One goal, one purpose, one reason… human decency will pull people together all over the world. That is what I believe in. Tom DeFranzo made a bigger difference, out of compassion. That is what I believe in. As rude and crude as the fast paced people of the world may be, tragedy will unite us all. That is what I believe in. Love and brotherhood will triumph over hate and greed. And above all, that is what I believe in America. And until that day, Michael, Sir and I will be waiting patiently, as all the compassionate people of the world do.
“Michael James Boyne Dunleavy: Our Gift From God, April 9, 1994. Our Gift to God, October 28, 2002”— The Michael Dunleavy Foundation (michaeldunleavy.com)’
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