Splashing cuts through a still marsh early morning. A pompous crocodile barrels his way through the grass and into the murky water—waking all of the other animals. “Watch it” the croc exclaims. The other animals yawn awake in disgust, except one animal looks on with intrigue. A teeny white plover bird swoops down from a nearby branch and lands directly atop the crocodile’s scaly snout. Puffing up his chest, the plover bird peeks at the crocodile’s foul teeth and says to him, “You look like you could use a friend”.
I have a complicated relationship with Sickle Cell Disease. Depending on how you look at it, you could argue that my encounter with this illness has simultaneously been the best and the worst thing to ever happen to me.
When I was a senior in high school, I was the typical jock who only cared about himself, until an angel crashed into my life. After one of my games, a six-year-old boy with Sickle Cell Disease approached me and declared he was my biggest fan. He then said the last thing he wanted to do before going into the hospital for a full year of isolation for a bone marrow transplant was to play basketball with me. This little boy and I became best friends.
Over the next several years we spent an inordinate amount of time together, I hardly remember a moment when we were apart. From celebrating birthdays, to arguing about whether pineapples belonged on pizza, we were inseparable. A true yin and yang.
But as time passed, the complications increased and I watched my best friend’s physical strength deteriorate; so much so, there was less and less we could actually do together. It destroyed each and every fiber inside of me. Although, with little life left, I watched my best friend fight to keep his spirit strong. He always remembered to smile despite the pain. His final words to me, “Smile more”.
I am no doctor, so I am not going to try and pretend to be one. I haven’t the slightest clue what Sickle Cell Disease actually is or does to someone’s body. But what I do know is what Sickle Cell Disease is capable of. This complex illness is capable of keeping a ten-year-old full of life from realizing his full potential. But it is also capable of teaching a harsh lesson—many people out there need our help.
Sickle Cell Disease blessed me with a friendship that I will happily carry in my heart for the rest of my life. Now, although I hardly understand the complicated world of medicine, in some ways I know am grateful for this disease. Although Sickle Cell robbed me of my greatest friend, it also ridded me of a previous ailment that I’d suffered from—ignorance.
I only now realize that when no one else believed in me, this sick little boy flew over to be at my side. Despite the fact that he was literally only half my size at the time, he showed me what it meant to stand tall. When I was struggling to smile, he showed me that all I needed was a friend.
With the courage of a lion, the plover bird declared once more that he could help the crocodile despite how different they were from one another. “Fine” the crocodile said as the bird continued to sit on its snout. Then the croc slowly opened its monstrous jaw for the plover bird to enter. The bird happily cleaned up the decaying food stuck between the croc’s enormous teeth, both saving his new friend and feeding himself. Eventually, the two of them, despite their noticeable differences, would never leave each other’s side again. The croc now proudly smiled more than ever before. An unlikely duo that somehow became an everlasting friendship.
My good friend and LucStrong teammate, Eric Wiltfang, is getting prepared to run the Chicago Marathon and needs our help. He is running in honor of Luc Bodden and is looking to raise as much money as possible for The LucStrong Foundation. Read more about his current campaign and fundraiser written in his own words below. Thank you Eric and run like the wind. Proud to support such an incredible athlete. ~ JD Slajchert
As a parent, we all understand how important it is to protect our children. Purity only exists for a short time. Tragedy and hardships are a somber truth of life and for some, they begin to learn these lessons at a very early age. For my son, and for many others that loved Luc Bodden, tragedy struck in the fall of 2016. My son lost one of his dearest friends to complications related to a disease most people know nothing about. Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic blood disorder affects over 100,000 Americans each year, and this time cost a very special friend his life.
I was concerned for my 10-year-old’s well-being. My wife and I were loving him and trying to cater to his needs, when I started to realize that I too had my heart crushed. I believed I had done a poor job of protecting my boy from unimaginable hurt. I had always assumed that I could protect my children from whatever would come their way but not this, not this time. This is when I knew that there had to be a way—something I could do to show my son that something good can come from such a terrible situation.
I started running as a way of clearing my head. I ran when I felt happy and I ran when I was having doubts. Running became a form of therapy, but it also became my way of showing my son how to channel his feelings of fear, doubt and worries. Now, a few years later, I am ready to show my son how a tragic event, so painful, can be the catalyst of something so positive. I am ready to prove to him that hope is real.
On October 13th, 2019 I will run my first Marathon - The Chicago marathon. I’m doing this to raise money and awareness for the non-profit founded by the parents who lost their son and named it The LucStrong Foundation in his honor. This foundation supports families with children who are diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease.
Our goal is to ask 1000 people to sponsor this cause in the amount of $26.20 per pledge. $26.20 might not seem like a lot, a week’s worth of coffee or a few gallons of gas but all together the money we raise will go raised ($26,200) goes a long way in helping The Lucstrong Foundation provide love and financial support to even more families in 2019 and 2020. 100% of your donation will go directly to The Lucstrong Foundation.
I now run with more purpose than ever!
To make a donation please visit www.lucstrong.org
Wow! I have been asked by the Red Cross to become an Official Ambassador! Wow!
I am just returning from my first set of speaking engagements as a keynote for them and it has been an amazing experience thus far. The people that I have met in each of the four cities that I have spoken at have blown me away. These volunteers have given their lives to this amazing non-profit and it is truly an honor to speak towards their commitment for good. Each of them touched my heart. I am already excited to put on the red tie again!
*A look at my personal bookshelf follows. On my blog I will be reviewing some of my favorite stories from some of my favorite authors. I am happy to say that these novels greatly influenced my style as a writer and are books that I often find myself going back to reread. So check them out! Up first we have...
A book that I have often referred to as my The Catcher in the Rye because it is the story that I take with me everywhere. I rarely leave my home without it. What John Green did with Paper Towns is create a world where love, friendship, heartache and mystery clash on every page. I felt as though I was sitting beside the protagonist (Q) when he was battling his darkest moments. To give this book the ultimate compliment, a friend of mine and I recreated a few of the moments from this brilliant coming-of-age novel in real life to become our very own version of Margo and Q. Living in John Greens fictional world for a moment in time. I can't think of any other book that has excited me quite like that.
To My Readers,
Throughout the frenzy that became my life after the publication of MoonFlower on October 14th, I haven't stopped smiling. You wouldn't believe the amount of love and support I have received over these past three months. Each day has been brand-new. With the help of all of you we have elevated this book into a tremendous success, and the best part is that we are just getting started. I am excited to continue pushing forward, but I wanted to take a second to say thank you. Each of you have my whole heart and I promise to continue carrying your messages with me everywhere that I go. We will leave no stone unturned.
I was lucky that our souls happened to stumble across each other. There are so many souls that will never know of each other’s existence. So, I refuse to believe that the ones we do come across in this life are accidental. It would be insulting to the author of the universe to boil down the astronomical odds of two people crossing paths in this great big world, to a mere coincidence. Being Luc’s older sister was no accident, we were meant to know each other, we were meant to learn from each other, and we were meant to love each other. I know this because I’m standing on the edge of my college years, almost at my commencement. Because I’ve experienced falling for someone for the first time, and even those beautiful things left me uninspired to write…until I was asked to write about Luc. Nothing inspires me quite the way Luc does.
Luc was the universe. Everything in my life was always about him or came back to him. That last summer with him my mom went back to work, and it became clear that Luc was mine to feed, to care for, and to love. The sun rose and set with him. Every morning began with a unique feeling of pressure on my legs, it was Luc sitting on top of me in attempt to wake me up so that I could make him breakfast. In the evening he was my sous chef. I’d prop him up on our kitchen counter top so that he could be eye level with the stove and we’d cook up all sorts of meals and danced around to all sorts of music. From Hawaiian to Hip-Hop the kitchen was our place to share songs and explore new sounds. On summer nights he was a movie critic. We’d watch mysteries and dramas and discuss plot and dialogue just as any pair of film aficionados would. So when I say that Luc Bodden was my sun, my moon and my stars, I mean it in the most literal sense. So why am I telling you all this? What’s the point? The point could simply be what I just stated. I had a little brother and we loved each other dearly. And making that point alone would be enough. But the point of this is love, and all the lessons that come with it.
Like anyone else I’ve feared love for as long as I can remember. There’s no thought more chilling than the submission of your heart to another human being. Because at that point they’re holding all that you are at their will. Sometimes they don’t even mean to. In a romantic relationship, that release of control is intentional. It is two people choosing to relinquish control of their heart and let it be cared for by another person. Then there are relationships we don’t choose, like parent or sibling relationships. These are written in the stars before our existence. These are the people that hold pieces of our hearts before they are even aware of themselves. It was never Luc’s plan to take a piece of my heart and make it his own. His intention was never to hold a chunk of my heart and take with him in his life after earth. But he did. The day Luc was born I looked him and I knew my heart belonged to him. Luc’s existence alone made me give him my heart with an open hand. And when you experience love by inclination; love developed by nature, you’ll be terrified. Terrified of losing it, terrified of anyone or anything separating you from it.
This is especially so when you have a sick child or sibling. When dealing with the illness of a loved one you are so constantly aware of their mortality. The thing that is capable of separating you from that inexplainable love is now visible and tangible. You love that person wholeheartedly simply because of their existence. And suddenly that existence is threatened and the outcome is entirely out of your hands. The pain of losing a loved one to illness, will try to eat away what’s left of your heart. But if you let it, you’ll have nothing left of your heart to give to others in your life. In the grieving process I found that easy to accept at first. I felt like I never wanted to love anything again because I never wanted to feel the sting of losing it. I thought it would’ve been easier to have never known such a love in the first place. But that’s the lie of a broken heart, and Luc is the only reason I know that.
Life would not be easier had I not experienced loving such a fragile person, it just would’ve been safer. But loving Luc has shown me that there is no safety in love and that there is no love without risk. You will risk a part of your heart every time you let someone else hold it. But the love you experience and memories you create when you allow yourself to love someone are worth the possible heart beak, every single time. When I think of Luc’s funny chuckle and sweet smile, or bouncing him when his stomach hurt and holding his hand in the hospital, I am sure that I’d never want to know a life without those memories. It will always be better to have those memories and have felt that deep love for just a little while than never at all. Nothing in this life is guaranteed to last forever. But love is worth letting yourself feel fully, even if it’s only for a time. So should you stumble across someone worth loving do not let the fear of losing love keep you from loving them. Fear loss, and choose to love anyways, that is what my fearless brother taught me about love. Thanks Bubba.
The following message was written by Luc's older sister, Tarren Bodden. She is a 21 year old Senior at The Masters University who is currently earning her bachelors degree in Communications and plans on graduating in the spring of 2019.
“Two years ago today my best friend Luc Bodden died, and a few weeks later I started writing a book about it. My name is JD Slajchert and I am the author of MoonFlower, a story about the best and the worst things to ever happen to me.”
“I started writing MoonFlower because I was hurting. Two years ago, I had the social life, I had the popularity, and I was even on the basketball team, yet, I was still missing something. To everyone who knew me, I appeared to be the happiest dude on the planet, but I was anything but that. I was depressed. I didn’t know how to tell people about what I was going through, so I didn’t. I lied for years to even some of my closest friends and family about what I was feeling and that only made things harder for me. And I kept all of this to myself because I was scared.”
“So I started writing a story to understand. A story that I told absolutely no one about. I moved out of my current housing, so I could be alone. Giving me the space to write. Once I was living in complete solitude, I drove over to Staples, bought 12 mechanical pencils, some led, and a 17-dollar bright red journal and started writing. I would wake up at 5 am and go to sleep at midnight. And the craziest part about those days in the beginning, were those were some of the happiest days that I can remember. My emotions became characters and my characters became my story.”
“What originally was my own personal therapy, quickly became something that I truly believed in. A story that could help others. A story that could help people who have lost someone. A story that could help people who have loved someone. And now, I am ready. I am ready to tell you everything.”
“Today is the second anniversary of Luc Boddens death, and the day that I finished my first book, MoonFlower.”
Dear UCSB Community,
With great thanks to everyone in the UCSB community, I announce that my final season of competitive basketball has come to an end. My four years of competing for this prestigious university have quite literally been a dream come true, but I couldn't have done it without all of you. To my coaches, teammates, family, closest friends, and—most importantly—my fans, thank you so much for standing beside me and supporting me throughout my entire athletic career.
As far back as I can remember, I told anyone who would listen that one day I would play collegiate basketball at UCSB. Many people didn't believe me, but as I grew and matured as a player, my dream became more and more tangible. After dedicating most of my life to basketball—a game that I love and adore—I eventually achieved my dream and stepped into The Thunderdome four years ago. Being a member of the UCSB Men's Basketball team has taken me all over the country and has introduced me to some amazing people. So, as I say goodbye to the game that has given me such incredible opportunities, I also want to express my deepest, sincerest gratitude.
To all of my coaches at UCSB, thank you for believing in me. To my teammates, thank you for your brotherhood. To my family, thank you for the sacrifices you've made throughout my life to help make all of this possible. To my friends, thank you for supporting me and my teammates. Last and certainly not least, thank you to my fans: you've stood beside me through all my ups and downs and you've cheered your hearts out every time I stepped onto the floor. Thanks to each and every one of you, I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.
My final message as a member of the UCSB Men's Basketball team: follow your dreams. If you work hard enough and put in the hours, your dreams absolutely can come true.
Trying to make the world a smilier place one character at a time.