As told, below, through an open letter from Mike's daughter to all those expressing interest in the first annual event, held on November 19, 2016.
Thank you so much for visiting this page, and your interest in the 1st Annual Mike Caesar 5k for Autism. This charity event is in honor of my dad, a life-long Oceanside and Baldwin resident, who died suddenly of a very rare and aggressive cancer at the age of 55 on October 11, 2015. All of the proceeds will go to the Organization for Autism Research. Raising awareness and support for those affected by autism is a cause that has united our family and friends for the past twenty years. To give you a better idea of my motivation for organizing this event, I would like to tell you a little more about my dad, our family, and his story.
My dad grew up in a small house in Oceanside with his four sisters, all of whom have raised their own families in either Oceanside or Baldwin. My parents married in 1987 and moved one town over to Baldwin, where they raised my older brother, Max, and me. Together, my parents also had 25 adored nieces and nephews.
Since the day we were born, my dad was incredibly involved in our education and athletics in the Baldwin community. Over the years my dad coached both boys and girls in PAL basketball, Little League baseball, and Baldwin Eagles soccer. He also assisted with CYO basketball, as he was an active member of St. Christopher’s Parish. Not only did my dad carve out countless hours every single week to coach dozens upon dozens of young kids in Baldwin, but he also volunteered to give rides every single day to practices, games, and tournaments that were hours – sometimes states – away, to any of our teammates whose parents could not do so themselves. Years after Max and I had graduated high school, my dad could still be found on the sidelines and in the stands at Baldwin football, basketball, and lacrosse games.
During my college years, I transitioned from participating in team sports to pursuing long distance running. Although it was not his favorite form of exercise, my dad picked up running himself to support me in my training. Last summer, I trained for my second marathon – The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. – while my dad trained for the Marine Corps 10k, both to be raced on October 25th, 2015. Late in September, a chronic cough halted my dad’s training. To the shock of everyone, the doctors found a cancerous tumor the size of an apple in his chest, which had also spread throughout his lungs.
Initially, my dad’s illness appeared to be a very treatable, even curable cancer – after all, he was a very healthy man. One week later, however, his condition took a turn for the worse and the doctors realized that what he had was actually a very rare and aggressive cancer with an extremely poor prognosis. The doctors began chemotherapy immediately, which, at first, seemed effective. But after three straight days of vigorous treatment, my dad’s body began to weaken from the chemo. Because he was having severe difficulty breathing, he asked to be intubated and was put into an induced coma, allowing his body to rest and regulate before starting more treatments. In the following days it became clear that between the enormous strength of the chemo and the rapid spreading of the cancer, there was no possibility of a recovery.
On the morning of October 11th, 2015, my family decided to take my dad off of life support and let nature run its course. What took place next marks the most heartbreaking yet incredible experience of our lives. Friends and family filled Room 9 in the ICU of Winthrop Hospital, packed shoulder to shoulder and overflowing into the hallway. The nurses and doctors later referred to our bond as an “overwhelming force.” There is no way for me to articulate the amount of love both felt and exhibited in that wing of Winthrop Hospital that morning. With tears streaming down our faces, we smiled and sang “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” as my dad’s heartbeat slowed. Within twenty minutes, my dad took his final breath, and we knew we had absolutely made the right decision.
My dad taught all of us sweeping life lessons that extend far beyond the basketball court or the soccer field. He brought people together. He showed us that being the first to lend a helping hand, whether to family, friends, or strangers, fortifies the roots of a community. My dad was the uncle who stayed late at night to clean up after the family Christmas party, and the neighbor who woke up early the very next morning to shovel the snow off the sidewalks of the entire block. Truly, he was the man who wakes up an hour early to live an hour more — and he did it all for those around him.
It has been nearly a year since our community has lost this outstanding man. My dad’s death is an open wound still healing, but to our great surprise, one from which we are also learning each and every day. If I had the time, money, and resources, I would start a foundation that spreads his lessons and his legacy across the world. Right now, I want to start with what I have by bringing the community together in the same way my dad did. I want to unite everyone in a cause that is near and dear to our hearts, in a way that keeps me connected with my dad – through running.
I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read my dad’s story.
I can’t wait to see you all on November 19th.
Very Truly Yours,