Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cycle For Survival Is Coming

I admit, one of the most difficult things for me to do is to ask people for money. I have never been quite good at raising funds. I always seem to achieve my targeted goal, but it is always a struggle for me. I remember when I was a young boy and I had to sell chocolate bars for my little league team or school. I would have to hope my parents would by them. Of course, my parents could not afford to do so every single time. Even though I know it can be tough for me, I still always agree to do so because I feel so strongly that it is important for me to be a voice for others. I have an opportunity to help bring attention to causes. I have an opportunity to help others. In some cases, my help may be the difference between life or death. In our world, people have to face various health issues. They can often find assistance through research and medicine which are available for them. Unfortunately, there are times where their illness may be so rare that research or treatment does not exist which can save their lives. In such cases, they can turn to Memorial Sloan Ketering Cancer Center for help. In order for a place such as this to help, we as a society must be willing to help raise funds for them. That is why I eagerly volunteered to cycle for survival on the Njoy Racing Team. The yearly Cycle For Survival event is coming to chicago and other cities across the country this February. I will take part in this event and hope you may consider helping raise funds for this cause so that those suffering with rare forms of cancer will be given a chance at life. For more information and to donate, please log on to the following site. Thank you in advance!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tanya's El Nogalar Hits LA

A few years ago I had the privilege to attend a play written by the amazing Tanya Saracho. As expected, I was blown away by her work. One of the interesting things I have noticed in recent years is that when I attend a play, I have a very difficult time throwing myself into the experience. I often study the dialogue and action to figure out why it does or does not work. I am always trying to get inside the writer's mind to anticipate where she is going with the story and to question whether I would do the same. Again, this makes it difficult for me to enjoy the work, but I do my best. It is easy to enjoy the work of Tanya Saracho because she is a talented writer. I do find myself studying her play and I always walk away learning something about telling stories. In recent years, I have been lucky enough to become her friend and get a closer look at what makes her so special. One of her successful pieces has now been taken to LA where audiences there will get a chance to learn what Chicagoans have known for years about the amazing Tanya. In addition to her, El Nogalar hitting LA, there is a chance very soon the rest of the country and world will see Tanya's work on the TV screen. If you do not know Tanya, please take the time to read this article about her.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kate In One Night Stands

Kate Bergeron is a talented, amazing, beautiful actress, model, singer, teacher, and director who I met many years ago in acting class. She was a fascinating talent then and it was clear she was destined for superstardom. She has appeared in many commercials, online shows, and films. She can currently be seen starring in a one hour sketch comedy show called One Night Stand. If you are in the North Hollywood area, you are lucky because you have a chance to watch Kate shine on stage. You must do it before too long though because the show closes on January 29. Please stop by the Avery Schreiber Theatre located at 1150 Magnolia BLVD in North Hollywood for tickets and to watch Kate. She is spectacular and you will be more than satisfied by Kate's performance.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sharp Look At C Different Foundation

This past weekend as I attended the festivities in Houston as a member of the C Different Foundation team, there were two individuals who also attended the CDF lunch-in, Houston Half/Full Marathon, and other related events. Elisa and Marc Sharp not only attended, they captured many images which they have now published on their web sites. There is a still photos slide show as well as a video set to music. After receiving their permission, I am passing along the URL to the video here. thank you to Elisa and marc for capturing these images and for permitting me to share this link with you. Over seventy volunteers, fundraisers, company representatives, donors, and athletes joined together to make this a very special weekend. You can see them here. You will also see Jen and Stu who guided me for the half marathon, Chris who opened his home to give Jen and me a place to stay, and me walking around looking sexy. Well, maybe not sexy, but you get my point. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Houston Half Marathon 2012

My travel bag was all packed on Thursday night. I printed out my flight information and jumped into bed at midnight. I would get up at 7a.m. to get ready for a trip to the airport. By 9a.m. I was out the door and heading to the airport. It was cold, but luckily, I was heading to Houston were it would be warm. I checked in and flew through security within minutes. I sat waiting for my plane to board when I heard a lovely voice. It was my friend, Jennifer Pfaff. She sat next to me. Jen along side me would be a familiar experience throughout the weekend.

We arrived in Houston at about 3p.m. where we were met by Chris, the man who had volunteered to open his home for us. Almost instantly, the three of us bonded. Chris drove us to pick up our packets for the Houston Half Marathon. As we walked in, Chris mentioned he had met a woman earlier named Patty who told him to tell me that she said hi to Julio. Chris stated that Patty laughed and said I would know what that means. I certainly did as I responded with my own laugh. Chris took Jen and me to Nifa's for some amazing Mexican food that night. The next morning, we woke up early to get to the starting line area of the Olympic trials. The 300 best elite runners in the world would compete to represent Team USA for the Marathon in this summer's Olympic Games. It was cold. Jen mocked me for being from Chicago where it was snowing and temps were in the teens yet I was shivering for temps in the middle thirties. A thunderous roar from the crowd greeted the male then later, female runners as they ran by us. To be that close to the best runners in the world was very moving. The races were exciting. The men made their way through 26.2 miles and neared the finish. The crowd was electric. As touching as it was, I was more intrigued by the women's race. It came down to the wire as the amazing Shalane, Desiree, and Kara finished one, two, and three earning the spots to represent USA. It was a powerful moment which sent chills up my spine. It was magical to be just feet from those athletes as they celebrated their achievement.

On Saturday afternoon, Chris, Jen, and I join seventy other individuals at a lunch-in for the C Different Foundation, the non profit started by my friend, contractor, model, actor, film producer, triathlete, spokesperson, Matt Miller. The director of the Texas chapter of the C Different Foundation, David Adame, was the master of ceremonies. As Jen, Chris, and I walked into the restaurant, a car drove by and someone yelled out from inside the car, "You're my hero!" I told Chris, "I think they're talking to you." A bit later, as we enjoyed our meal, Matt Miller walked up and sat at our table. He asked, "Did you hear me earlier? I was the one who yelled out in the parking lot Israel, you're my hero!" We had a wonderful time with some wonderful people. Later, it was time to prepare for the next day's mission. Jen would be my sighted guide for the Half Marathon as I hoped to shatter my previous personal best at the 13.1 mile distance. The last half marathon I ran was in 2010 when Michael and Brian Crissie helped me to a finish time of 2:24. My hope was that I could break that by as much as fifty minutes and finish in about 1:35:00. Truth be told, that was a maybe pie in the sky thinking, but I figured I might as well set my goal high so that if I can not reach it, I will still have it and the motivation to eventually get it. Even if I missed it by one, five, or twenty minutes, I would be proud because I would still crush my current personal best. Besides, Jen guiding me, triathlete, Stu Evans would also assist by running along side and if need be, taking over guiding duties from Jen if an issue would arise.

I tossed and turned Saturday night. Jen placed my bib on my CDF top and I had put out all my clothes for the next morning. I kept trying to relax myself. I should be confident from my last long distance run, Chicago Marathon. I had reached the halfway point in just over two hours so I should be able at the very least, push myself to finish this race in under two hours. What if I could not maintain a 7:30 or 8:00 pace? What if I start out at that pace, but get tired and struggle down the final few miles? I tried visualizing positive images. I thought of other long races where I was confident and fluid. I kept telling myself just run to the next aid station. I could get to the next one, walk to recover, then pick it up again. I wanted to avoid making excuses while pushing myself in a way I have never done. I was most excited that this would be the first time ever where Jen would guide me when I was fresh. Usually, she takes over during the second half of races when I am struggling. Often, by the point she takes over, I can not maintain and need to walk. In this event, I would walk as little as possible.

Race morning. The race began at 7a.m. If all went well I would be done before nine o'clock. Chris drove us to the race. We wished each other well. He left to meet up with his friends with whom he would run the half marathon and we walked to the start coral to meet up with Stu. I was nervous. Stu and Jen went over last minute guiding ideas. Stu decided for the aid stations, he would ask what I wanted then run off and get it so Jen would guide me completely around the aid station. Jen said in order for me to hit my goal, it was important I not walk at any point. We would run from the second we crossed the start line until we crossed the finish line. I would not stop for liquids, cramps, or soreness. So much for my run to the aid station plan. I was anxious. The only other time I was successful with Jen's plan was in my very first half marathon when my goal was to run the distance. I did, but it took 2:57:08. I was going at a much slower pace. I did not know if it would be possible to accomplish that in this case. I did not think I was prepared for that. The gun sounded. We walked behind the crowd. Then we crossed the start. Okay, time to run. We moved along. I was scared. Jen informed me we were moving at a 9:30 pace well below our target. My nerves were acting up so much that I was okay with it, but I knew I had to pick it up. I did. Before long Jen told me we were at a 8:19 pace. We made it to the one mile mark. The miles rolled by. Jen and Stu encouraged me. We reached an aid station. I started to slow down. Jen insisted I keep up my pace. "No. We said no stopping at aid stations. Let's go." I had to keep going. Stu went to get my water then caught up to us. In the fourth mile, my shoe laces became untied. We had to stop. Stu tied them up as Jen nudged me insisting I did that on purpose in order to stop. Of course not, but I welcomed the pause. We started up again. We had to make up some time. At around the fifth mile I heard a voice from my left yelling, "Yeah! Go Israel! Let's go Julio!" It was Patty Godfrey. I smiled and picked it up a little bit. We neared the sixth mile. Wow, I was still running. Stu would get my water or energy drink and Jen kept pushing me. I started to feel tired. It was still early, but I felt that it was because I had not planned to run all the way through and it was catching up with me. Stu remained positive and insisted I was doing well. We made it to mile seven. Less miles to run than what I had already run. I began to notice something which was evident the rest of the race. Although my legs were tired, it was more my stomach giving me problems. I felt winded. I often kept having to take deep breaths in an attempt to relax myself. Nervous energy filled my body. Doubt crept in. I was not sure if I could continue running all the way. The miles kept piling up. We neared mile ten. I needed to stop. Jen insisted on a compromise. Although she would prefer simply pushing harder to finish faster, she would be willing to slow down so long as we kept running and did not stop to walk. She had not come to Houston to walk. She had heard me talk about how in 2012 I would no longer be satisfied with participating. I wanted to race. She would not let me walk. Pardon my language here, but if she had to go into "bitch mode" she would to get me to my goal. Jen made it clear, if I would end up walking then she would never volunteer to guide me in a race. My legs were hurting. My stomach kept giving me issues. Again, it was not upset. It was just a case that I felt winded and short of breath. Jen yelled at me to dig deep. She told me y pace. I was still hanging around 8:35 pace. It felt like we slowed down to double digit minute per mile pace, but as I later found out, we never did. It only felt that way. As I started to almost cry thinking to myself, I do not want this as badly as I thought, Jen kept pushing me to push myself. I kept slowing down preparing to walk, but Jen screamed at me to not walk and keep running. I would gather myself and then pick it up again. As we neared the final mile, Stu also began to push me to drive forward. Where before, he was telling me how well I was running, he began to focus on preventing me from walking. He began to yell at me too. I kept digging. I kept fighting the urge to walk. I knew that I needed to be like Shalane, Desiree, and Kara. I needed to show myself that I did want it that badly. I began to drive forward with such anger and such purpose as jen and Stu informed me how close we were. Others ran by me encouraging me. Throughout the run, people had run by expressing what an inspiration I was. They were telling Jen and Stu how moving it was to see them guiding me. Now these individuals were cheering me on as only a few hundred meters separated me from the end. I wanted to sprint. I had nothing left. I wanted to move faster. I could not. Then Stu said, "Raise your hands up to cross the finish." I did. Within a few feet I felt the finish line. I had done it! I had gone the distance running the entire way. I had done so faster than I had ever run my previous half marathons. I averaged 8:53 pace and had completed the Houston Half Marathon in 1:57:23. Twenty-seven minutes faster than my previous best time. Of course, I wanted this. I was also motivated by the fact that if I slowed down to a walk at any point, Jen would never volunteer to guide me ever again. I love running with Jen. she gets the best out of me. she drives me hard. I love that about her. I had to run the entire way so that I could get another chance to run with Jen.

My body was sore. I felt cramps. I did not care. Jen and Stu had helped me achieve something special. I now had a new standard and record to break. I had shown myself it is possible and I can improve. I am hungrier to continue working to accomplish much more. Might this be the first race where I truly raced? Possibly. This may in fact be the dawn of a new Israel. One who races.

After meeting back up with Chris who also rocked his half marathon race, we went home, cleaned ourselves off, and attended a Houston Texans playoff viewing party which had amazing food, drinks, and entertainment. Later in the evening, Chris drove us to the airport where Jen and I said good bye to our new friend for life and made our way back towards Chicago. Houston was an amazing time. It was wonderful to see David, Patty, and Matt again while meeting some new folks. It was wonderful to run with Jen and Stu. I loved meeting Chris who has a heart of gold. I have always respected Jen Pfaff and have appreciated her friendship. Now, my level of respect, appreciation, and love has reached new heights. She truly is one of those dear friends who has brought meaning and purpose to my life. I am grateful and know that she and I have many more races to run together. I will achieve so much more in years to come because of the amazing Jen!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Houston Half Marathon: Am I Ready?

Here it is. My opening event for 2012. The Houston Half Marathon on Sunday. The entire weekend should be a blast as the best pro elites will be running a marathon on Saturday. 300 of the best runners fighting for a couple spots on this year's Olympic team. Some of the best in the world will be running just feet from me on Saturday as I plan to be watching them in person. It is going to be a great thrill to share that experience with one of my friends who has taught me so much in the last year and a half. Jennifer Pfaff. We will both be in Houston as a result of her volunteering to be my race day sighted guide for the half marathon. We shall watch the pros then she will help me attempt to set a new personal best for the 13.1 mile distance.

In February 2008, I ran my first ever half marathon in Fort Lauderdale as a part of Team CDF after founder, Matt Miller contacted me to ask if I wish to run as part of his team. I agreed and took on the challenge even though prior to the race, my longest run was 4.7 miles which I had run just seven days prior to the event. In fact, I always say that I was only given six weeks to get ready. I have always felt that was not enough time. Looking back on it, that was more than enough had I used the weeks wisely to prepare. Instead, I was not ready for the race, but did the best I could to gut it out. Going into the race, I had to goals. Run the entire distance and close the show with a spectacular sprint. I achieved both goals. It took almost three hours to finish, but I did it. The next time I took on that distance was when Michael Crissie guided me in May 2010 at the Chicago Spring Half. His twin brother, Brian, decided to join us. Together, they helped me cross the finish line thirty-three minutes faster than at the AIA Fort Lauderdale race. The goal I have always had was to cross the finish line of a half marathon in under two hours. I have only run two, but I have not been able to reach my goal. When I ran the Chicago Marathon in October 2011 guided by Kimberly Shah and Jennifer Pfaff, I was shocked to learn that I had reached the tenth mile in one hour and thirty minutes and the thirteen mile mark at about two hours and five minutes. This gave me confidence that if I work hard to ready myself, I could break two hours. Realizing that an elite runner of Jennifer's talents would not want to fly to Houston and give up a weekend simply to help me finish a race, I decided to aim higher by targeting a finish time of one hour and thirty five minutes. I did not know if I could and would be ready by the middle of January, but I wanted to try.

I have worked hard running and lifting weights as this weekend neared. I do not know if I can reach said goal. I do know if all goes well, I will beat my personal best for the half marathon distance. I also feel I can cross the finish in under two hours. I believe that I am in wonderful shape to run this half marathon. I just do not know if I am mentally ready to push my body beyond its limits. I can talk to myself in attempts to pump myself up, but come race day when pain and cramps settle in, all those encouraging words go out the window and I ease up just trying to finish. I want to do more than just finish. I want to be special! I want to be the best I can be. I always try to leave something in my tank for a final kick to the finish. It usually takes my guides by surprise which I guess is not right of me nor safe. At last summer's duathlon in Pleasant Prairie, my guide, Todd Smith was taken by surprise as I took off down the final shoot. He later told me, "If you have enough to sprint like that at the end, it means you weren't pushing yourself earlier." That is something I continue to remember and wish to change about how I run in these races. I want to be physically spent when I cross the end yet I am afraid to dare to be great. That is what I hope to strive for on Sunday morning. I want to race this year. I do not just want to show up and participate in events. I wish to race them. Mainly, I hope to destroy all marks I have previously set as my best. I want to race against myself. I want to test the limits of my ability. I admit I am afraid, but maybe the more I surround myself with amazing athletes from whom I can learn, the more likely I will begin to believe in myself and get even hungrier to achieve my best! For today, I get ready to fly to Houston with Jennifer and enjoy a tremendous weekend visiting with old friends and making new ones. I am grateful to David Adame for helping me get on the Team C Different Foundation for this race. I thank Jennifer for being willing to travel to Houston with me and run a half marathon. I hope to enjoy the journey of the distance embracing the people and atmosphere while driving myself to perform well. I look forward to Jennifer supporting me the entire distance. I also trust her to press my buttons to remind me "there is no tomorrow." May I begin to dare to be great.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Accidental Rapture

One of my favorite people in the world is the beautiful, amazing, and spectacular Laura Shatkus. I first met Laura in acting class many moons ago. She was dynamite! I learned so much from observing her in class. I was always so scared whenever I had to do an in-class exercise with her because she was just so talented. In the end, she is special because not only does she bring her best work to any and all scenes, but she also knows how to get the best out of her scene partners as she did with me. Above her acting talent, Laura is an amazing woman whom I am lucky to call a friend. She has been supportive over the years as I navigate the film and athletic worlds. Now all can see Laura dazzle in a new show starting Thursday, January 12, 2012. Accidental Rapture is coming to the 16th Street Theater. It stars an amazing group of actors among who is the lovely Laura. The show runs through the middle of February and is a production all should check out. You have to see Laura. She is amazing in everything she appears so I know you will be left in awe of this amazing woman. You will also enjoy the performances of her cast mates. To see the amazing Laura or to get more information on performances, dates, and times, please visit the following web site. Enjoy the play.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Racing And Writing: Leaner Faster Sexier!

Happy New Year!! It took a few days into 2012 for me to finally post this, but I hope you enjoy reading. I gave some consideration to what I wish to put out in the world and universe for the start of 2012 knowing I will have you, my readers, holding me to these goals and aspirations. Mainly, I will have to hold myself to these items, but it is more fun and does bring more pressure when others are keeping tabs too. As almost everyone does, I always figure that I will maintain and achieve some determined level of fitness, some standard of excellence for my writing and acting in theater pieces, films, and TV shows, and new adventures or places visited. In truth, how often do we set these goals only to shift focus away from them rapidly after the new year? I believe it is similar to those events in our lives which take place and cause us to say, "I will never take life, family, or friends for granted." Or we say, "I will seize each day for the opportunity it is." In the end, we usually fall right back into patterns with which we are most comfortable and which usually involves taking people for granted and not seizing life. I write this because I know I am all too guilty of these! I have made fitness goals and went after them for weeks before losing motivation or finding other things too distracting and more worth my attention so I drop the fitness focus. I have been inspired to write a tremendous story as a theater piece so I sit down and type away for three or four days completing a new full length play which I immediately get into a new play festival or competition of some kind, have my piece selected as one of the ones workshopped and showcased, only to then take the feedback and sit on it instead of immediately banging out a new draft thus letting time pass and the interest in my work die quietly. Every year, January ushers in the promise of a clean slate. Each year, it is time to evaluate where I have been, where I want to be, and where I am going. Of course, what gets in the way is life. I could have a plan or idea what I wish to achieve during a given year, but an opportunity to race in some event in a city which I have never visited may present itself. Maybe the chance to participate in said event with an elite world champion may come about, I would be crazy to not jump at it. There is always the possibility, as has happened two of the last three years, that while I am planning to work on an updated draft of one of my theater pieces, someone will approach me with the suggestion to turn one of my other plays into a screenplay or a TV show. Again, with interest in those projects, I should not only consider it, but deliver what is being requested of me.

For 2012, I have decided on a slogan. In previous years, I have used several of them to motivate me through a period or to get me ready for a race. I love that. For this year, I will do my best to live up to my slogan of Leaner, Faster, Sexier! As you will read, it would probably be more fitting if I went with the word Stronger, but people have come to embrace me as Sexy Isra and this is called the Sexy Isra Experience, so I went with Sexier as the third word.

I use to think that the way to get men to respect me and women to take in interest in me was to bulk up to a romping stomping hulking body. then female friends taught me otherwise as they insisted the Bruce Lee lean physique was much sexier. For one new year's resolution, I resolved to get a lean sexy physique. I planned to workout five days a week. I was not sure if my fitness motivation would last a couple weeks or months, but it was worth a try. I ended up following through for two and a half years! As a boy, I was always small and skinny. I could never gain weight to save my life. After I started bulking up in college, I ballooned up to a stunning 173 pounds. I was a beast. I was a mess. When I decided to slim down and get lean, I worked my way back down to 120 pounds before increasing and settling in at 130. Besides the nonstop compliments from men and women, I loved that I was in the best shape of my life. At that time, my very first theater piece was produced with me as the star. It was so much fun to include a scene where an actress had to undress me on stage. Well, at least, my shirt came off. The feedback from women of all ages and even some men was priceless. It made me realize that I could always include a scene in all my plays and films where I would be shirtless. I had always been uncomfortable with my body, but not anymore. A few years later, I took an interest in road races and triathlons. All of these athletes, especially the elite, are lean and sexy. I could fit right in to this group. The next challenge for me would be to reclaim my speed from my youth. I was always a sprinter prior to losing my sight. In fact, even after losing my sight, I was able to compete on my high school track team as one of the only ones in the state racing against all sighted competition. Yet, since I started running marathons and triathlons a few years ago, I have not been able to display my speed. I must ensure that I do so starting this year. If I can motivate myself to remain focus on the task at hand then I should be able to get leaner and faster for this year's races. That would also mean I would be sexier.

Each time I write a new theater piece or screenplay, I feel that I become a better writer. From time-to-time I will read early drafts of projects or some short films I wrote many years ago and I just shake my head. Did I write this? Why did I ever think these were great? I continue to learn and challenge myself to get better. I challenge myself to make every script as good as it can be. I must make them leaner. I love the sound of dialogue. I love writing dialogue. I know there are moments I write too much of it. I need to let images convey the emotions more. I need to let actors act. From what people tell me, this is not a major issue with my work, but I feel it is so I must improve that. I must get to the heart of my characters and stories faster. I also need to agonize less over every last detail and simply write so that I can get my work into the hands of agents, actors, producers, writers, directors who often request my scripts. I need to trust my talent and be willing to share it with the world more readily. I need to make them stronger so even more people will be interested on a global scale. I must make them sexy enough to intrigue audiences.

Leaner, faster, sexier! If I can stick to those with my training and writing this year then all will fall into place. I am excited about what the new year will bring. I know there are opportunities out there waiting for me. I must be ready to seize them. I will have races in Houston, Denver, and Chicago. Will I be ready to race anywhere else when the time comes? Will I have screenplays ready for submission when people in LA, New York, and elsewhere are calling for them? If my training and writing get leaner, faster, sexier then the answer will be a resounding YES.