As I stepped off the Jet onto the jet bridge the heat engulfed me and the sweat was immediately flowing from every pour. I had felt this heat before but was surprised at its instant tenacity. A relentless pursuit to drain you of all hydration. The type of humidity you could cut with a butterknife.
Taking a red eye from L.A. I touched down in Tampa with no sleep. I had a 9:00am appointment with the Executive Director of the Children's Cancer Center and her team. Feeling a little intimidated and nervous I wasn't sure what to expect. I was dripping in sweat dressed in an ensemble that was not fitting for the climate and wondering if I had what it took to ask the right questions. To learn what I needed from this well established and impressive organization.
I had done my research but really did not know to much in detail about what exactly the Children's Cancer Center did. As I pulled the door open to their center the cool air soothed all my worries. I knew somehow, someway this was going to be positively life changing.
Patty O' Leary greeted me with a smile and the amount of energy to run an entire city. She radiated with a force that not many have. I knew instantly why she was running the show. Her words were clear and to the point. Filled with intent and passion for what she pursued and tirelessly accomplished. As she toured me through the facility and explained who they were and what they did I was overwhelmed and thoroughly impressed at the amount of love and help they gave to 86% of all families in the surrounding area with children diagnosed with cancer. I did my best to hold back the tears as we walked the halls looking at pictures and hearing stories of the children who had recently passed. I felt a weight on my heart as I imagined the families losing their son's, daughter's, brother's, sister's, and grandchildren. It was a strange thing seeing how they had come to deal with these things. By the time we sat down for our interview I had a million questions. But realizing I had a limited time frame I stuck to the script and pulled as much as I could from Patty and her amazing team.
Next on the list was the Sanibel Sea School. Driving three hours through the flat planes of suburbs and shopping malls I arrived on the small island of Sanibel. A small swampy island where the ocean surrounds you with its odors and creatures of all types. The only place in the world with a shell museum. A place of white sand beaches and warm waters.
Again I didn't know what quite to expect with this organization. As I walked in the door I was immediately impressed with their facility. Filled with art projects, ocean equipment, informative ocean facts, posters boards, and sea life it was a collaboration of children's work that was beautifully displayed.
Sitting down with Bruce was an honor. A doctor, marine biologist, executive director, husband, and a highly conscious and aware individual. I felt an instant connection as we discussed Hawaii his former residence for a period of time. A place he intended to start his Sea School. When bruce began to inform me of what exactly they did at the Sanibel Sea School. I was blown away at their diversity, fundamentals, principles, goals, and overall spirit. How they brought such simplicity to such a complex thing was very impressive to me. Knowing what it takes to organize and run something like this I had to reassess my own fundamentals.
With only hours to spare I rushed three hours back up the coast to attend the Children's Cancer Centers Gelatin Plunge. One of their bigger fundraisers for the year. Again nothing but inspiration. Knowing what it takes to throw such a big event. Over 100,000 dollars raised it was an event full of smiles.
Standing at the top of the 15 foot slide staring into a pool of orange gelatin I thought to myself this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I took a step back, and before I knew what I was doing I was flying through the air skipping the slide and landing with a gigantic gelatin splash. As I emerged from the pool (much harder than expected) I was met with a roar of applause and screams.
My trip had come to an end and I left florida with more than I ever had imagined. With my next stop being New York City I was filled with butterflies knowing my journey was only getting better with each stop.