This conversation started on March 5, 2018. It will make you smile.
Edward, how young are you?
First, let me thank you for asking me to be part of this project. It’s an honor. This April I will turn 51 years young and I’m showing no signs of slowing down.
No signs of slowing down. I love that. Why do you say that with such conviction?
Like that saying goes, “You’re life is made of two dates and a dash. Make the most of the dash”. Life is short. There are no guarantees of tomorrow for anyone. Our Mudcro Family has learned that the hard way recently with the loss of our brother Jerome “Romie” Gonzalez. He was only 44 years young when he passed away. See, hitting 50 years old for me wasn’t a curse, it was a blessing. I know a lot of people who have lived long past my age and unfortunately, I know too many who have left us way too soon and will never know what it’s like to feel the age of 50.
So to slow down now would be an insult to those like Romie who didn’t get the same opportunity at life that I and many others have. It’s time to live!
I’m very sorry for the loss of your OCR brother. No question sir. Just compassion.
Thank you, Brother. Jerome Gonzalez is and will always be an amazing human being. His heart was filled with love which he freely gave away. By just meeting him once, you felt that love. Great father, artist, author, friend, teammate…Brother. He will always have a place in my heart and the hearts of all the lives he touched. Gone way too soon but impossible to forget.
You said to slow down would be an insult to those who didn’t get to see the age of 50. I love that idea. It is so raw and honest. That thought seems to have a lot of personal accountability attached to it. Is that important to you, being accountable?
Of course it is. I tell my boys everything they do in life has a “cost”. Some things will cost very little while others could cost you your life. A man will hold himself accountable for all he says and does. I was telling the story about the one time I was pulled over by a police officer back in high school. I tried to make the yellow light at an intersection and wasn’t successful and wound up running the red light. As I passed through the intersection I saw a police car sitting at the light…oops! I knew he would pull me over so before he even turned on his lights and siren I pulled over onto the shoulder and waited for him. He pulled up behind me and came over to my window and asked me why I pulled over. I told him I tried to make the yellow light and ran the red. I told him I saw you there so I assumed he would pull me over so I figured I would save him the chase. He laughed (life goal accomplished! Lol!) and asked me for all my paperwork and went back to his vehicle. He came back and told me that he believed I was being honest and sincere and he would not give me a ticket and I need to be more careful. It wasn’t easy to admit my guilt but I was going to hold my self accountable for my actions…and so would the police officer! But it was me holding myself accountable that lead to the officer to not give me a ticket. Maybe not the best example since I should have gotten a ticket, but accountability walks hand in hand with honesty and integrity. And those are traits that make the man.
Where do you live? And why?
I’ve lived in New Jersey all my life, with the exception of my college days when I lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA most of the year. I currently live in Raritan Borough. I was born in Jersey City, spent my youth in Rahway and at age of 13, I moved to Belle Mead / Hillsborough. The why…that’s interesting. I guess if I had my way, things would have been different, but who knows where I’d be today. It’s funny how things happen in your life and at the time, you believe it’s the end of your world. But in hindsight, it was just the beginning.
I believe every thing happens for a reason and sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need.
If you had your way at the time where would have lived?
It’s not where I would have lived, but more about who I’d be today. As a young boy being uprooted from his home and friends, yes I would have wanted to stay in Rahway. But I didn’t, so my choices brought me to where I am today. I would not have met the same people, lived through the same enjoyments, suffered the same heartbreak and loss that has molded the being I am today. I mean, I’d still be me but I’m sure I wouldn’t be the same person. It’s taken a long time, but I love who I have become and I wouldn’t change this journey one bit.
If you don’t mind sharing, why did you think it was the end of your world?
Well, maybe “end of your world” wasn’t the term I should have used. My dad left when I was very young, so my mom was left to support and raise us. And eventually, moving us out of Rahway was the best way for her to do that. Like I said before, being removed from the only life I had ever know was definitely a huge obstacle for me to overcome. Back then it seemed impossible, but today I certainly realize that people have endured much more heartache and suffering than what I had to go through and…everything happens for a reason.
Everything happens for a reason. How has that belief shaped your life?
This has taken some time, but I trust the things that I do will lead me to not only be where I want to be but where I need to be. I trust in the conscious or unconscious choices I make to get me there. Don’t get me wrong, there is still work to be done. You can’t do nothing and expect results. Everything happens for a reason is being content with the now.
I don’t put the pressure on myself and say I should be this or I should be making this much money or driving this type of car or even run a mile in this amount of time…I am content where I am at because I feel there is a need for me to be there.
Has this been a journey of self-realization and personal philosophy through life lessons or have you been influenced by other teachers?
I think its been a little of both. I don’t think you can help but learn or be influenced by others. I’ve always felt it is good to listen to others and their points of view, but ultimately your journey is written by your actions and decisions. My mom has been the one person I’ve always been able to turn to when I needed guidance. And my brother-in-law “Poppie Tom” and sisters have always been there for me too. As I look back, there were a lot of people who helped me shape my life and that never ends. More than ever we are bombarded with information and it’s up to us to filter through it all and take what we think we need to journey on. But that’s the beauty of life. There is so much information and so many paths to choose and we need to find that one that fits us best.
When someone asks you what do you do, What is your answer?
As a career, I am the Network & Systems Administrator for the U.S. Federal Probation Office in the District Of N.J. But for my life, I am a husband to a very patient and understanding wife, a father to 3 amazing young men, the President of Michael’s Miracles (a 501(c)3 non-profit my wife created to raise money and awareness for type 1 diabetes), an OCR enthusiast and a proud co-founder of the greatest team on the planet…My OCR Family: The Sons Of Mudarchy (Mudcro).
Could you tell us about Michael’s Miracles and how and why you are involved in such an amazing mission?
10 years ago we were in the Poconos for Easter when my middle son, Michael got sick. I mean, he was really sick. My wife took him to the ER at Mount Pocono Medical Center where they told us he was a Type 1 Diabetic (T1D). His blood sugar level was through the roof. A heathy person has a blood sugar level somewhere around 80-100. Michael was 2656 and he was falling into a diabetic coma. He was flown by a helicopter from Mount Pocono to RWJUH in New Brunswick, NJ. There were many complications and we weren’t so sure Michael would survive. It was nothing short of a miracle. After 2 weeks in ICU, Michael was healthy enough to come home. My wife and I decided then we wanted to help provide assistance and support (both financial and emotional) to families that followed in our footsteps. So from all of this, Michael’s Miracles was born. A few interesting facts about Michael’s Miracles: Michael is in the Guinness Book of World Records for surviving the highest blood sugar level known (look it up!) and because of Michael’s Miracles we, were able to get on the TV show Ink Masters where I got a tattoo of my sons insulin pump and the number 2656 on the display screen.
Can you share with how you were able to get on Ink Masters?
We got a little lucky here. Someone in the diabetes community sent my wife the request from Ink Masters that they were looking for someone in the Tri-State area who had a child affected by a disease or disability that would want a tattoo to represent that disease/disability. I think they had casted someone and they dropped out last minute. She applied for us (I had no idea) and they contacted her pretty quickly. So, after a quick visit to get blood work and having to send them 3 different outfits we would consider wearing (they chose what we wore), we were off to the show! Our whole process took a few weeks. Some of the other participants told me they had applied to be on the show over 6 months prior. So, we were a little lucky. It was a fun day to spend with Michael.
How is Michael today?
Michael is doing well, thanks for asking. It’s a lifetime battle but he’s learning and prepping for that fight. He showed a toughness during those two weeks in ICU. He fought back.
I thought that I was going to teach my boys things about life, but I never thought I’d learn so much from them. They’re my heroes.
Do you mind sharing with us what you learnt from your boys about life?
They have taught me about strength and courage. They have taught me there are times we should put others needs ahead of our own. They taught me how to care and that the true riches in life aren’t deposited into your bank account, but stored in our memories and hearts. Most importantly, they give me the will to try my best to stay in shape so I can try to live a long, healthy life to see them become good human beings.
Why do you think the world needs hero’s?
I think we need to be reminded that there is good in the world. The news feeds are filled with ugliness and hate. And once in a while someone comes along and erases that ugliness and replaces it with kindness and compassion.
I don’t know about anyone else but acts of kindness restore my faith in society and make me believe that there is a little hero in us all.
Most people are grateful for the survival of their child and get back to living life. Why was it so important to you and your wife to be so compassionate and thoughtful to other families?
One time we were holding a fundraiser and I was talking with a man, telling him our story. He said to me, too often it’s through tragedy that people decide to do what we do and help others. He said your story has a happy ending and yet you’re still trying to do good things. We know how much this process hurts…so many unanswered questions. So if we can ease the fear for another family, I think we should. If we can help guide them and make them see that things will be OK, I think we should. Everyone at some point needs help and guidance. It took a long time for me to understand that. Our families have a place and people they can turn to. We need to be the change…not only for other families to see but maybe more importantly, for my boys to see.
We need to be the change. That is a very compassionate and unselfish perspective on life. Why is that important for your boys to see?
I haven’t always lived by this philosophy. It’s taken me some time to realize the importance of being that change I want to see. My boys need to understand the value of life and how fortunate they are. And this has nothing to do with how much money you have or the car you drive or the clothes you wear.
The world is full of doctors, lawyers and other professions, but is in dire need of good people.
That’s what needs to shine through. My boys can be anything they want, but my hope is they are good people. And if I live that life and set that example, they can see the affect it has on their lives and those around them. The return we get from life won’t always be financial, but the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your best to make your world and the people in it better is all the payment you need.
Why do you think tragedy is usually the birthplace of change instead of the happy ending?
It’s like the saying “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. We always think we have more time, more days and more hellos. Unfortunately this is too often not true. But what is fortunate is that we as humans can take our pain and suffering and turn it into something positive. I think that trying to work through tragedy brings some closure to the pain you feel and while the pain never goes away, we learn how to exist with it. It has taken me a while to feel this way but I do always try to find some good in all that happens…even through the toughest of times.
You are trying to ease fears for other families, how have you eased your own fears as you navigate this journey called Papa Smurf?
I certainly have my share of fears, but I think “Papa Smurf” isn’t a persona but more of an extension of who I truly can be. I’m not fearless…I think fear is a great motivator and certainly promotes growth. It takes work to admit your fears and to confront them. Through this journey I’ve been fortunate enough to confront many fears and watch others do the same. I love that. There is nothing more satisfying than to see someone meet their fears head on.
And I think it’s very important to help others see past their fears…”In union there is strength”, right?.
What do you think Edward can truly be?
I’m really not sure. I just want to believe I have given my best to everything. From my personal life, to my family, to my friends, teammates and myself I want to give my all and leave nothing on the table. Nothing is worse than the empty feeling of being unsatisfied or disappointed because you know deep down you could have gone a little further. There’s a peace you feel when you know you’ve given it all. I had a theater professor in college that used to say “To Try is to Fail”…and it took a while for me to realize he’s right. There’s more than just the effort of trying. It’s the commitment of all your entire being that will give you that satisfaction and nothing less. That’s what I believe I can be, but I may never attain it…but it won’t stop me from working hard enough towards being my best.
Who gave you the nickname Papa Smurf?
My best friend in the world, Dave Rey. We were golfing in the Poconos a few years ago during the month of September. I can’t remember how the topic of Halloween came up but he told me I should dress up as Papa Smurf. I thought it was funny…and creative. I can’t tell you how many people call me Santa or throw out a joke about Christmas. Now Papa Smurf, that was original…and it fit! When I first started using the nickname someone made the comment on social media that it was the most appropriate nickname they had ever heard. My teammates laugh because they say every race I go to someone recognizes me. I always say my beard is famous but me, not so much! Lol!
According to Wikipedia Papa Smurf is a gentle, wise, and knowledgeable village elder. A leader, Papa is a central father like figure that Spartans typically go to when seeking counsel. Due to his fatherly nature, Papa Smurf is always concerned about the other’s welfare and harmony. He is very altruistic and is always available to help anybody. His great diplomatic skills are used when encountering humans or Spartans in the forest. Have you ever seen this description?
That’s funny…I just saw that the other day. Very interesting. I got the nickname purely based on looks…but you know I say things happen for a reason. I mean, if someone sees that definition and associates it with me…wow. It would be an honor to be seen as that type of person. It’s definitely something to work towards!
This is a first on over50badasses. I’m going to tell a quick story followed by a question. In reference to being recognized at every race. I was deep into my second lap at the Ultrabeast in Killington Vermont. I was climbing yet another hill. I came out of the woods and was crossing a ski run and there you were. I recognized you instantly and without hesitation or thought joyfully yelled out “Papa Smurf”. I could actually feel your light, I was instantly given a jolt of positivity and joy. I have no other way to explain it. I can’t be the only person who feels and sees your light. What is it like for you on the other end when strangers yell your name and are smiling with uncontrollable joy at you?
The beard is hard to miss and a fitting nickname doesn’t hurt either! Lol! That’s a great story…I’m honored and very happy that you felt the way you did. I think these races can be a struggle at times (especially Killington! ) and it costs nothing for me or anyone else to share a smile, a handshake, a fist-bump, a pat on the back or just a kind word. I love to see the smiles. It’s a humbling experience for people to call out to you…like I said the beard is kinda famous but me, not so much. Lol! I’d like to think people see me as a positive influence on the course and hopefully off the course as well. My goal in life is a simple one..every day of my life I try to make one person smile. Just make them smile or laugh. Maybe in that moment while they are smiling or laughing they can forget about their worries and problems and see some good in life. Ever hear of the Comedians Prayer (Clowns Prayer)? Look it up sometime.
How did you get into Spartan and OCR racing and why?
I felt I was out of shape and I needed to do something. I had heard about these Tough Mudder events and one was going to be held about 45 minutes from my home so I signed up and had 6 months to train. I’m not a runner, so I knew if I didn’t sign up for some type of race I would never start or I’d start and not stick with it. So fast forward to the day of the race. It was a cool day and the sun was shining. Here is the interesting part about that race day. Most of the race I did fine. My endurance was good but I found my upper body strength needed work. At the end of the Tough Mudder race comes Electroshock Therapy…and boy did I take a jolt! I probably lost 7 – 10 seconds of time when I got shocked. I blacked out but I was still moving forward ( I have pictures to prove that) but I don’t remember anything until I rolled over a hay bale. There I was laying in the mud looking up at those electric “tentacles” and all I could think of was I need to get out of there fast! Also,probably from the fall after the shock, I wound up dislocating my shoulder at this event. But you know what? I signed up for another event the day after my first. I fell in love with the way this race made me feel. It was exciting, it was a challenge, it was me helping complete strangers and them helping me. And I knew right then I wanted more. Yes, the racing has put me in better shape. And trust me, I still have a long way to go. But this racing community has given me the chance to really take a good look at my inner being. And I know I have done things that my old self may not have believed possible.
It was the OCR community that I was drawn to and they made it possible for me to grow, be strong for myself and others and made me a believer in me.
Who are the Sons of Mudarchy and why are they the greatest OCR team and family?
The Sons of Mudarchy (or Mudcro) was born (or stolen) from the TV show “Sons of Anarchy”. There were 4 of us and we were just trying to have fun doing these races. A few people joined our “team” and we found we had a great chemistry brewing within our team. A guy from the UK contacted us and said he loved our logo and was wondering if he could start a Mudcro team there…and it’s grown ever since. We have multiple teams in the US as well as teams in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Australia. I always have said we are not an OCR or Running team…we are a family. I don’t care if we are ever the biggest team. I want us to be a group of good people who not only look out for one another, but for everyone one on the course. Who are honorable, respectful and who try to become the change they want to see in the world. We have come together to raise money for many causes (cancer and cystic fibrosis) and are there for one another not only on the course but off the course as well. The Sons of Mudarchy has grown into something I couldn’t have imagined it would be because of the amazing people who joined and became part of our family. So the “Best Team On The Planet” is definitely a self-proclaimed title…and no disrespect is meant to all the other great teams out there…but these people have become my family…and I love them all.
The Buddhist have a word for community and family, it is called Sangha. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. They believe the Sangha relieves the suffering in ourselves and in the world. Buddhist believe building a Sangha is important and noble work. Do you think you have built a Sangha?
I assume you’re referring to the Sons of Mudarchy. A Sangha…that’s interesting. Maybe. There is a lot of good and definitely a lot of love that flows through the hearts and souls of this family. And I would be quick to point out that not one person, including myself, is solely responsible for this environment. I don’t believe one person makes a community. I think what happens is people see what you and those around you value and how you all react to the environment and agree with your ways. You find people who share the same values you do…or sometimes they find you. I agree that some of the group has laid down the foundation for this family to be built upon, but I don’t think people join because they want to be like a particular member of our family. I think they join because they share similar values and traits already. I constantly say The Sons of Mudarchy have become what we are because of the people who are here. So maybe this is our “Sangha”. And if it is, then we are pretty lucky to have built such a strong community TOGETHER.
What is the toughest race you have ever run and why?
I’ve spent some time on Killington and Blue Mountain and those are tough courses. But the 8 hour Toughest in Philly last year was an eye opener. I wasn’t prepared for the weather (temperature) and it probably didn’t help that I ran the Tough Mudder during the day and returned to run the toughest at night. Lessons learned for sure. This year I will run that same 8 hour race and the Worlds Toughest Mudder. That’s what I love about these races…each race brings its own challenges.
And they all present something different and each race you learn more….more of what you need to succeed and more about you as a person.
What is your greatest success in your life so far? What did you learn from it?
My boys…no question. It’s an amazing journey to watch and be a part of. I’m so fortunate to watch them grow, learn, succeed and fail. I’m very proud of where they are going and what they are becoming. They give me a feeling of satisfaction knowing all the work, the struggles and pain to get to this point in my life was well worth it because it lead me to them. They have made me laugh and cry. And being able to watch their journey gives me a thirst for a long life…I want to be around to see and share it all with them. It’s funny…you fall in love and get married and you think you couldn’t love anything or anyone more than this. Then, you have children. And that is the best lesson…the lesson that love has no end and it can continue to grow.
What is your greatest failure in your life so far? What did you learn from it?
I’ve faced a lot of failure and trying times, as I think we all have. There were many times I’ve felt I wasn’t worthy or good enough, that I didn’t belong or I wasn’t able to make it to “the next level”. But you know what…I don’t want to view my failures as a defeat. Failure is growth and requires you to evaluate your process. And sometime this “detour” in thought brings us to some really great places, places we would not have seen or experienced if we made it straight from point A to point B.
That failure can put us not in the places we wanted to be, but at times, it put us where we are needed most.
If you could write the opening of your eulogy what would you hope it would say?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Well…how about “Ed was a good dad, husband, teammate and friend. And he tried to make the world smile…one person at a time”.
If 51-year-old Edward could speak with 25-year-old Edward what would you say to him?
Reminds me of a song by Brad Paisley (“Letter To Me”). I would tell 25-year-old Ed to strongly believe in himself, to take more chances, to give more, to not hold onto anger and let it go, to love like it will never hurt and to say “I Love You” to those you care about because they need to hear you say it as much as you need to hear yourself say it.
Oh, and keep your promise to make one person smile each day because the world needs more smiling faces.
Your goal in life is try to make one person smile. How did you arrive at such a beautiful place?
As far back as my grade school days I was always a class clown. As a kid I would listen to comedy albums by Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong and Richard Pryor. I loved watching the Flip Wilson Show, Saturday Night Live, Joey Bishop, Don Rickles, the Carole Burnett Show and anything that had to do with comedy. I always loved to laugh and make others laugh. I mean, laughing is free and it’s good for the soul. So through my college days I still didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life. A bunch of friends and I were sitting around an apartment room, just taking turns talking about our own lives, about where we have been and where we thought we were going. That’s when the idea was born. At the time, I thought it was a cop-out, but as time went on I thought it made perfect sense. Anyone can wish for wealth or fame, I wished for happiness.
You wished for happiness. Has that wish been granted to you?
One of my favorite sayings is “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however”. But, I would definitely say yes. Let’s face it, it can’t be sunny every day…you have to expect some rain. I have a family that loves me and I love them, great friends,
I’m part of a great community of people (OCR), I eat every day, have a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear…I’m extremely fortunate. These are the true riches of life.
Edward Buonocore (aka Papa Smurf) Dad, Husband, Teammate and Smile Maker.
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