Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Writing poetry helped me deal with the anger, sorrow, and grief that come with a life-altering illness.’

Sea Cliff

“When I was playing halfback for the New York Jets in the early 1970s, I had never heard of CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], the often-degenerative neurological disease that afflicts football players after they retire. I learned the hard way when in 2016, at 65, I collapsed in the gym. I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. I have not been the same since. A wheelchair became a necessary means of transportation. I fell into deep despair.

“One summer day in 2017, I woke up in the morning with a sense of urgency. I had a visceral feeling that I was slipping away and had an intense desire to document what my life has meant to me. I wanted to confront my fears and express the grief that was roiling within me.

“I started writing in a journal and then composing essays. I found the process to be cathartic. Eventually, in addition to prose, I decided to try poetry. The lyrics of Leonard Cohen inspired me to begin morphing prose into poems and poems into songs.

My illness has certainly changed my life.

“Writing poetry helped me deal with the anger, sorrow and grief that come with a life-altering illness. To inspire others, I collected some of these writings into a book called ‘Head Hits I Remember: My Brain, Dysautonomia and Football.’

“For the past five years, I have been working with a physical therapist, and she has made a world of difference in my ability to function. While I can no longer climb mountains like I used to, I can usually walk distances with my titanium hiking poles. My endurance and balance have improved significantly. In my personal life, I sing publicly, meditate, care for three rescue cats, eat mindfully, sleep well and get the right amount of exercise. Plus, I have the perfect wife in Victoria!

“My illness has certainly changed my life. I have, in effect, reinvented myself. Instead of traveling the world, I am walking on our patios and exploring local trails. But there is a bright side. If I had not become ill, I would not be as sensitive to the beauty of ordinary things, the small miracles of life we often take for granted. I have accepted my ‘new normal’ and have discovered that there are silver linings to even the most difficult of circumstances. I am thankful for all I still can do and have learned to do!”

Interviewed by Saul Schachter