Smiling Faces Fill the Chelsea Piers Field House at 2012 Game Day
Tim McGorry, Medical and Nutrition Reporter
Last month more than 450 guests, volunteers, doctors including Dr. Orrin Devinksy and Dr. Blanca Vazquez, medical professionals and other staff connected for a fun-filled day at the Field House at Chelsea Piers, a spacious sports facility by New York City’s Hudson River Park. There, youths with epilepsy engaged together in activities including playing on the indoor soccer fields and basketball court, jumping for joy on trampolines, having their faces painted, playing in a “Fortress of Fun”, and connecting with others through many more activities. They enjoyed carnival games and treats, and were entertained by performers and role models.
Among them were “Mighty Mike" Simmel, a member of the Harlem Wizards entertainment basketball team, who has had epilepsy since age two. The role model gathered together youths in a circle, entertaining them with his basketball wizardry skills through performing ball-tossing tricks with them and shooting hoops.
Mike said, “Having been a young kid with epilepsy since the age of two and having to deal with all the rigors of it, I understand challenges many of these kids face. I want to show these kids you can do virtually anything you want to do as long as you work hard and believe in yourself.
“NYU and FACES do a great job working with the kids. Game Day provides an opportunity for families to get out and have fun—an outlet that brings people with epilepsy together. Any time you can do that it’s a win-win.”
In addition to being an athlete and entertainer, Mike is an acclaimed motivational speaker and offers instruction at this basketball camp for youths with various disabilities. But aside from showing kids how to balance the ball, the role model also emphasizes the importance of leading a balanced life, noting, “I tell these kids ‘You must take your medication every night, get sleep, listen to your doctors, stay active, eat all the right foods. It’s about balance.’ “
Dr. Blanca Vazquez Summer Camp Scholarship Program
Game Day helped raise awareness of the Dr. Blanca Vazquez Scholarship program. Each year it awards financial need-based scholarships to many children with epilepsy whose families are seeking funds to attend appropriate summer camps.
“The right summer camp can be an excellent solution to help children remain active, have fun, learn, and build confidence,” says Dr. Vazquez. “Through this scholarship program, the family finds a camp that is appropriate for them, and the fund helps subsidize the costs. The camp has to be safe— a place with proper supervision.”
Dr. Vazquez adds that the types of camps vary because different children have different interests and needs. “Some people might be more into sports or they might be more into music.”
Improving Quality of Life and Connecting
Dr. Vazquez summed up Game Day and NYU Langone Medical Center’s work noting, “While we are working very hard to find a cure, we’re always trying to improve the quality of life for people with epilepsy. Game Day is an amazing story about kids who want to be kids and have fun—where families can come together and say ‘we’re not alone’ and see that many, many kids have epilepsy.”
Learn more about:
Mighty Mike, his motivational-speaking services, new book, sources for epilepsy information at MightyMikeBasketball.com, and BounceOutTheStigma.org for information about his programs, including his basketball camps and foundation.
FACES Game Day gets Better and Better Through the Years!
Steven Tarr, volunteer
While attending FACES Game Day for the past 5 years has been a wonderful experience that I will never forget, volunteering this past year was even better. On September 22nd, I joined a number of terrific volunteers at this year’s Game Day and had a marvelous time. Supervising the Lollipop Game and giving out prizes was an experience I will never forget. Getting to see everyone who attended the event and watching their eyes light up in awe as they picked out their prize gave me an indescribable feeling that can only be put as magical.
All the people attending Game Day had an equally wonderful time enjoying the festivities. A total of [insert amount of guests here] people traveled to Chelsea Piers to participate. There were carnival games, remote control car races, video games, and Sammie and Tudie’s Magic Show in the main room, while in separate areas, there were batting cages, a soccer field, basketball courts, and a full gymnastic setup with trampolines, foam cubes, balance beams, and rock climbing. Parents enjoyed the day as well, and as guests Angie and Jou Kim said, “It's a great event for kids who wouldn't have access to such facilities to play and be able to socialize without discrimination.” Food and other refreshments were also available in the main area, with such items as hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sodas, water, and treats including ice cream, cotton candy, and popcorn. Professional caricatures and balloon animals were also made for attending guests. Overall, just as guest Susan Novin of Montville, New Jersey commented, it was “A day without worry or fears.”
This year’s special guest at Game Day was “Mighty Mike” Simmel of the Harlem Wizards who demonstrated his prowess with the ball, played a game with the guests, and gave an inspirational speech. Simmel has epilepsy himself, has had two seizures recently, and takes fourteen pills every night, but he made it clear that his condition will never stop him from doing what he loves: “I'm here to show you and tell you that you can do anything you want.... Epilepsy is not what you are.... Limits don't define me, I define my limits.... Believe in yourself, work hard, and anything is possible.” After he finished his interactive show with the children, he distributed signed copies of his new children’s book centered on epilepsy entitled Mighty Mike Bounces Back, and also signed autographs and took pictures with guests. When I spoke with him as Game Day came to a close, he told me “I had lots of fun interacting with kids and family, and it’s the best part of my job.... When families come together for a common cause and forget their troubles for a day with no stress, it is wonderful, and NYU does a great job giving families an outlet to do this.... There are not enough figures getting the message out there that you can do anything despite any disabilities, especially when it comes to epilepsy.” Mighty Mike concluded by telling me that he would be happy to come back to Game Day any time to speak again.
A very special and signature part of Game Day is the Lollipop Game, which has been introduced by and managed through the years by FACES’ Steering Committee member Sharon Perhac. Sharon always does a wonderful job putting the Lollipop Game together, and I cannot wait to see how she will help to make next year’s Game Day even better than this year.
"My family and I have been privileged to be part of Game Day since it's inception 12 years ago. It's so rewarding to see each year that the number of families participating continues to grow. The happiness that is shared by the children at this special day stays with me for a very long time," praises Sharon.