The Other Man: An Unlikely Valentine’s Love Story

Heart GraphicLove. Passion. Amore. It’s impossible to define it in its infinite forms, even though its power shapes nearly everything about us.

On this Valentine’s Day I feel compelled to tell you about a man who continually sets my heart on fire and leaves me weak in the knees with his passion.

This man, by the way, is in serious competition with my husband.

Okay, I confess: I’ve been fooling around.

I can picture the disgusted looks on your faces as you read this news. But try not to think too badly of me, even if this affair has been going on for nearly fifteen years.

It might make you happy to know that this “other man” whom I adore so much, has never once brought me roses or chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Nor has he toasted with me champagne, pampered me with peeled grapes or showered me with sweet nothings. In fact, he has never even uttered a word to me.

The name of this quiet man? Fred.

If you’re concerned about my darling husband, don’t worry, he’s okay with Fred. He even supports my flings with him.

You see, Fred is a driving force in the battle against cancer.

His full name is Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, and also the founder of Fred’s Team, an organization supporting runners who dream of a world without cancer.

In early 1990, after a long illustrious running career, Fred Lebow was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was determined to use his passion for running as a means to battle this insidious disease, and designated Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the New York City Marathon’s first official charity.

Fred's Team LogoHis program, simply named Fred’s Team, encouraged runners to gather pledges for each mile they ran and donate it to MSKCC.

Since 1995 Fred’s Team has raised more than $45 million for pioneering research.

How did I fall head-over-heels for Fred?

Simple. Cancer drove a truck through my heart when I was eighteen years old. My dad, who was just 51 at the time, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died six months later–just a few weeks into my freshman year of college.

A decade later, that same semi-truck looped back around and plowed into my heart once again. This time it was my mom who was stricken by the disease. Her breast cancer left me dazed, my heart barely pumping. All I could do was watch helplessly (long-distance, no less) as she suffered through painful surgery and treatments.

It’s then I dragged my running shoes out of the closet and fell in love with Fred–or more accurately Fred’s Team, and what it represented.

I’d always loved running, but my shoes hadn’t logged more than five miles in a good long while. Somehow lacing them up again and putting one foot in front of the other helped me sort through my anger, grief and frustration. It also helped remind me of my inner strength—even if setting a goal like the New York City Marathon was so absurd I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words to a soul, except for my husband.

When I joined Fred’s Team though, I realized that it was impossible to raise money for cancer research if you didn’t tell people what you’re doing. Eventually I built up my courage and began sending out letters. Unnerving is the best way to describe it–especially since asking people for money is one of my least favorite things to do.

When I confided in a good friend that I felt like I was bragging when I told people I was running a marathon, she gave me sage advice: “Just remember this is not about you. It’s much bigger than you, so get over it!”

And I did.

Donations immediately began pouring in—along with words of encouragement and stories of how cancer had affected many of my supporters. People blew me away with their generosity.  It seems everybody knew somebody who had been knocked down by this disease.

With each mile I logged and each dollar I collected, my heart slowly began to heal. No longer did I feel powerless against the disease I loathed so much. By raising funds to support researchers working hard to find a cure, I felt like I could finally face cancer and say, “GAME ON, SUCKER!”

That was fourteen years ago, and I have not looked back since.

Since then I’ve run eight marathons (NYC-three times, Paris, Rome, Portland, Santa Barbara-twice), two triathlons, and also participated in a 400-mile cycling event through the Colorado Rockies. With the help of many extraordinary supporters I’ve raised over $60,000 for cancer research.

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson at the finish of the 1998 NYC MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the 1999 New York City Marathon

Running the Santa Barbara Marathon, fundraising for cancer researchBecky Green Aaronson after the 2002 Paris MarathonBecky Green Aaronson cycling during Ride the RockiesBecky Green Aaronson during the Carpinteria TriathlonBecky Green Aaronson at the finish of the Santa Barbara TriathlonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the Portland MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the Santa Barbara MarathonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the 2003 Rome Marathon

And now Fred and I are getting ready for our next tryst . This time we’ll be participating in a 50-mile cycling event in Solvang, California on March 10th.

Why do I keep doing this? Unfortunately that careening truck keeps smashing into my heart.

My mom survived her initial bought with breast cancer, but later died of colon cancer. My Auntie Katie also died of cancer in 2010. Auntie Margie died of cancer in 2011 as well as Aunt Bertha. Cousins, uncles, friends, colleagues, neighbors–nobody is immune. Every day it’s somebody new. Steve Jobs, Baby Lexi (read my friend Jessica’s story here to learn more), my friend Molly, my other friend A, my friend, Angie’s dad. It goes on and on. But I refuse to give in to this beast, and I hope you will join Fred and me in trying to kick its ass.

If you’d like to know more about Fred’s Team or if you’d like to support my upcoming half-century cycling event, click on this link: Becky’s Ride for Fred’s Team

Love is what drives us as human beings. And love is what drives me to continue doing what I do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Fred. Thanks for being my “other man” for some many years. Your passion and commitment still move me.

Fred's Team Lobo

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10 Things You Learn When The Love of Your Life Is a Photojournalist

When I originally started writing my book, I had planned purely to chronicle Jeffrey’s adventures around the world and not include myself in any way. But then several of my fellow writers, for whom I have deep respect, started nudging me to reveal what our life was like from my perspective. So this is for you, my friends. I’m branching out from my THEN and NOW format just for you.

When you’re married to a photojournalist…

1)  You confirm that Timbuktu really is a town in the West African nation of Mali and not just a place your mother threatened to ship you off to if you “didn’t shape up” when you were a kid.

Photo of Mali

The Grand Mosque in Djenne, Mali, a couple hours southwest of Timbuktu

2)  You figure out how to fix things when they break, or more accurately, who to call when it happens, because inevitably it occurs when he’s boating down the Yangtze River or working in some remote village in Burma. Water heaters, computers, car batteries…you name it…they’ve all called it quits when he’s been gone.

Photo of Burma

Children making their way home after a day at the market in Burma

3)  You learn to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions on a flexible schedule. If the love of your life is in Papua New Guinea on your big day, you learn to pamper yourself anyway and enjoy it with aplomb…then celebrate it all over again once he’s back.

Photo of New Guiena

The Kambaramba stilt village on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea

4)  You stay in tune with what’s happening around the world. If your spouse is heading off to photograph Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in South Africa or Hong Kong’s handover to China, you try to learn as much as possible about the country’s history prior the event, then drink in the details of what it’s like when he’s there on the ground, experiencing history in the making.

Photo of Nelson Mandela's Inauguration

An exuberant supporter of Nelson Mandela shows his enthusiasm during Mandela's inauguration

5) You learn that if you go on an assignment with him, you are NOT going on vacation–even if it’s to Spain or Italy or Tasmania. You will be working your hiney off, getting up at the crack of dawn, chasing the light,carrying heavy equipment, zipping around from place to place, keeping track of all the film and captions, and barely remembering to eat. That’s what photographers do. Still, there’s nothing like it.

Photo of Becky and Jeffrey Aaronson getting on a plane

Jeffrey and I jumping on a plane in Denver. ©David Hiser

6) You learn to be patient with the airlines (well…mostly), even when they snatch precious moments of your time together with delays or mechanical issues. When your husband has flown well over a million miles though, and has been delivered home safely each time, you try to overlook the bad stuff and appreciate what they do. But you do learn to always call ahead before going to the airport to pick him up (even if you live across the street from the airport like we did for many years) because seven times out of ten, his flight will be delayed.

Photo of an airplane window

The view out the window at 38,000 ft. on an assignment we did together in Australia

7) You learn the art of converting a mind-numbing pile of Chinese taxi receipts from yuan to US dollars when billing clients, and you figure out ways to keep your sanity during tax season when wading through wadded up scraps of receipts that need to be converted from Moroccan dirham, Indian rupees or Bhutanese ngultrum.

Photo of a Chinese taxi receipt

A modern Chinese taxi receipt. Most of the ones I converted over the years were funky hand-written scraps that were barely legible.

8)    You learn that little things make a big difference to somebody who lives much of his life on the road. Tucking love notes into his suitcase or using special code words in faxes or emails, which are meaningful to him but leave the Chinese government guessing, helps you stay connected. Also stocking the fridge with all his favorite foods or organizing a massage when he gets home makes him dizzy with appreciation.

9)    You learn that distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Reunions after a month apart don’t get any more romantic.

Photo of an Aspen tree carved with LOVE

Aspen trees

10) Most importantly you learn to have a life of your own and not put it on hold until he gets back. You take advantage of solo time and fill it with all the activities and people you love. In fact, you learn to appreciate it so much that you feel sorry for all those couples who rarely have time apart.

These are but a few things that come to mind when I think about the gift of our relationship and our lifestyle. I’m sure it wouldn’t be for everyone, but for us, it has been a dream. Jeffrey often says, “I can’t believe people pay me to do this job,” and I say “I can’t believe I have the best of all worlds.”

I’d love to know what you think and welcome your questions or comments so I hope you’ll drop me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below!

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