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JICNY’s Tower of Light Award

by Alison Qualter Berna

Last week our business partners and closest friends, Allison and Craig, were honored by the JICNY (Jewish International Connection in New York) for their dedication and commitment to service.

Thanks to the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, last summer Allison had the privilege and great fortune to go on a “mom’s trip” to Israel. I remember Allison’s struggle leaving her three beautiful kids for 10 long days. She wanted to go, but felt tormented by the idea of taking so much time away from her family, work, life at home…

Thanks to Craig, and a few of us who knew she would grow and change positively from this experience, she excitedly, and nervously, boarded the plane. 

When Allison returned, she was transformed in a way that only an eye-opening, educational trip can make an impact. She learned more deeply about the culture and made close friends, but Allison took it one step further and this is what makes her so special. Shortly after the trip, she hosted a JICNY event in her home and organized a group of women that meets monthly, giving them the space and time to continue the tradition of sharing stories, love and support.

At the event, Craig introduced Allison in his classic, loving way that exudes just how much he admires his wife. Perhaps my favorite part about attending this event was watching the incredible Schlanger boys, Sam, Ari and Dov, as they smiled with pride for their parents!

Here are a few photos of them receiving the JICNY’s Tower of Light Award:





Bobby and I continue to be in awe of all that Allison and Craig do and how much they give back to this world.

We sit in gratitude at their partnership and their presence in our family’s life.

Alison & Bobby

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Five Lessons I Learned Guiding the First Blind Runner Across the Grand Canyon

mamalode is considered one of America’s best parenting magazines…we love its philosophy and concept.  It is a fantastic website and highlights interesting articles and essays from writers across the country.  Today’s issue highlights co-founder Alison Qualter-Berna’s essay “5 Lessons I Learned Guiding a Blind Runner Across the Grand Canyon."  Check it out!



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the power of big words written by little people


by Alison Qualter Berna

There has been a lot of media follow up about the Grand Canyon adventure and my blind friend Dan’s journey losing his eyesight, facing depression, but then fighting it to become a runner and an inspiration to many.

This particular media story in the Denver Post stands out as one I wanted to share with apple seeds families since it highlights the letters that my daughters Maddie and Sydney wrote to me on the night before my 46 mile adventure.  I opened up the letters at about mile 36, at 3:30am, looking at a full lunar eclipse, completely exhausted and wondering if I could continue on for another 10 or so miles with my four very strong ultra-athletic friends.   I was holding on to the letters until “that moment,” the one I knew would hit each of us, the moment I started to feel down and overwhelmed by the whole thing.  As I pulled them out of my Camelbak and began to read, the tears began to form as I read phrases like, “I just know you’re going to make it!” and “You’re almost there, you can do it mommy!” and “Finish that dream you had a long, long time ago!”    How could I NOT keep going?  If only for my kids?




For me, Maddie and Sydney’s letters highlight a few things.  Sometimes it can feel like our kids are sapping our energy, but their words, their perspective, can also be a boost, even making a giant difference in our days.  I will save these letters forever as a reminder of the incredible power children have to keep us going, the amazing insight our kids have into what we need (and when we need it), and the solid proof that our kids – in the end – are happy when we are happy.

Here is the article!

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New York Family follow-up with Alison

[Over the past 2 weeks, we have been thrilled to share with you the experience of apple seeds co-founder, Alison Qualter Berna, as she led her blind friend, Dan Berlin, on a 46-mile journey across the Grand Canyon. Our friends at New York Family followed up with Alison to get her post-Grand Canyon adventure reflections.]

Grand Canyon Run: Epilogue
Five lessons one local mom learned after guiding the first blind runner across the Grand Canyon and back in one day.
by Alison Qualter Berna

Dan Berlin made history as the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in one go. I served as one of Dan’s four guides and I am forever changed by the experience.

Running rim to rim to rim is not easy. It is a 46-mile route over rocky terrain including 25,000+ feet of elevation change, and in certain sections, dangerous switchbacks on narrow trails beside 1,000-ft drop offs. I took turns guiding Dan with my fellow guides Charles Scott, Brad Graff, and Pete Kardasis, usually two at a time—one in front and one behind to keep him safe. We took only short breaks to refuel, refill water supplies, repair damaged feet and other body parts, wrap sore joints, and encourage one another not to give up. Perhaps the most amazing part of this for me was that we were completely self-supported, and at one point with no water stops in sight for miles, had to refill our bottles from the Bright Angel Creek.

Partying up the North Rim almost halfway!
In order to guide Dan across the Grand Canyon, I needed to train. A lot. As a working mother of three, I share the daily struggle of thousands of woman trying to achieve the elusive work-life balance. I constantly toil between wanting to be involved in my kids’ school and never missing one of their activities, with managing apple seeds (an all-in-one children’s play space that my husband Bobby and I founded with Allison and Craig Schlanger). We’re in the midst of launching national franchise program, and I felt as if I never had enough time to train adequately for this intimidating endurance challenge. I had difficulty squeezing in an hour-long exercise class, let alone the hours and hours of trail running I needed to do to get my body ready to take on 46 rugged miles in the Grand Canyon.

But I did it. I simply made the time. Yes, I often felt torn about missing work. And yes, I sometimes felt guilty about not being with my kids. But I also realized that I was a better mother and a better business owner when I made time to run outside on trails on practice my beloved yoga. At first, I felt selfish forcing in time to train, but I had no choice. Dan was counting on me to be in shape and to guide him. And over time, I realized that it wasn’t healthy always to put myself last. As I made time to train, I began to feel happier and healthier.

Alison with her family at the end of the journey.
When the time came to guide Dan across the Grand Canyon, I was ready. I learned a lot about myself on this run.

I learned that I need more confidence in myself. In the months leading up to this adventure, I relied on my friend and training partner Charles to remind me (on a daily basis) that I could do this crazy thing. Looking back, I think I knew I could do it all along, but fear and lack of confidence stopped me from fully believing it.

I learned that I enjoy setting goals. When I turned 40, I promised myself “one adventure a year,” preferring something outdoors and athletic to not only feel strong, but also allow me to try the many things I’ve wanted to do in the limited time I have on this planet. Running the width of the Grand Canyon and back in one day exceeded my expectations, and as I reached the final few steps, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. That feeling won’t leave my mind or heart too soon, and I would never know that feeling if I had not tried.

I learned that my kids want a lot of things from me as a mother, but ultimately, they simply want me to be happy. What they need is my unconditional love and my unfettered support in their schooling, activities, hopes and dreams. Through this past year of training, I grew even closer to my children, as I began to realize some of my own dreams. I’ve watched as they’ve absorbed my journey into their little minds, and I hear them setting their own goals, believing they can do anything…if they put their mind to it. I think they already realize that trying something is more important than thinking about something, and they understand that a working mother is also a woman with her own hopes and dreams. This is a powerful message.

I learned that I deeply need the loving friendship and support I have around me. My husband Bobby, my business partner and closest friend Allison, the many women I am so fortunate to call my friends, and my friend and training partner Charles. Without each of them, quietly reminding me to keep going, never judging me when I broke down after spinning my feet in the hamster wheel, and devotedly holding my hand along the way…I learned that love and friendship are the guideposts in my survival guide, the most fundamental part of my ability to be resilient and keep going.

Finally, I learned how lucky I am to be able to do this crazy run. Throughout the sometimes hilarious, sometimes grueling 28 hours, I felt, above all else, gratitude. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I could fly to the Grand Canyon, bring my family with me and complete such an athletic feat. But I was even more overwhelmed with gratitude simply for having my eyesight. Guiding Dan was a way for me to help another person, sharing something extraordinarily powerful with someone who needed me. But it was also somewhat selfish. Guiding Dan enabled me to shift my mind from my own fear of possibly taking a wrong step to certain death, or transfer any pain I may have felt from swollen, blistered feet. As I’d run or hike, I would sometimes close my eyes for a few seconds and try to feel what it was like for Dan. As we ran through the night, and I could see only a few feet of light in front of me, shining from my headlamp. But looking up at Dan, I did not feel frustrated but rather grateful for those few feet of comfort. I knew that the sun would rise, the trails would become clear again and I would once again see the beauty of the canyon. Dan would never be able to see its glorious paths, its varied ecosystems and the magnificent colors reflecting off its walls.

Alison celebrating with a handstand.
Deep down, we all knew that Dan’s completion would inspire hundreds of athletes and children affected by blindness. With that as our unspoken guiding light, in 28 hours, we never broke down. Each of us had different moments of frustration and despair, but Dan’s fortitude to keep going, I believe, carried all of us. Dan describes his blindness as “an inconvenience rather than a disability.” Instead of focusing on what he cannot do, he explores what he can do. And so we did too.

That philosophy is really a lesson for all of us, isn’t it? We all face some degree of adversity and it’s easy to let perceived impediments keep us from pursuing our dreams. Each of us took a different path to enable us to take on the Grand Canyon, and stumbling through life’s hurdles was simply part of the process. Dan stumbled many times while crossing the canyon, but he didn’t give up. He lives a life focusing on what is possible and then makes it happen. That is, perhaps, my greatest lesson of all.

We’ve received a lot of donations to the two blindness foundations we’re supporting—Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Blind Institute for Technology. Thank you! For those who haven’t donated, but would like to, the page is still open: youcaring.com

Take a quick look at what it was like to guide Dan on the North Rim:

video

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the immediate reaction to the run!

by Alison Qualter Berna

We did it! Dan Berlin just made history as the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in one go. I am forever changed by my experience as one of his four guides…it’s hard to capture it all into words and I’ve been crafting different essays on what it was like to guide a blind person for the first time, how it changed me, and long and complicated road to get here, squeezing in training into an already difficult work-life balance as a working mother of three. In this moment of celebration, I wanted to share some details and photos of the run itself. As I look back on the last few days, reeling in the joy of my experience, the words that come to my mind are inspiring, exhausting, breathtaking, challenging and FUN. So much fun I would do it again (I said it here first). 

Running Rim to Rim to Rim is not easy. It is a 46-mile route over rocky terrain included 25,000+ feet of elevation change, and in certain sections, dangerous switchbacks on narrow trails beside thousand-foot drop offs. I took turns guiding Dan with my fellow guides Charles Scott, Brad Graff and Pete Kardasis, usually two at a time - one in front and one behind to keep him safe. We took only short breaks to refuel, refill water supplies, repair damaged feet (blisters!!) and other body parts, wrap sore joints, and encourage one another not to give up (this last one was big as we all dipped into a bit of despair at various moments, thankfully not all at once). Perhaps the most amazing part of this for me was that we were completely self-supported, and at one point with no water stops in sight for miles, had to refill our bottles from the Bright Angel Creek.

Here is a photo of our group near the end of our adventure:

Alison Qualter Berna, Dan Berlin, Charles Scott, Pete Kardasis, and Brad Graff

Dan is a powerful person. He is quiet and kind and quickly put his trust in each of us, knowing that his completion could inspire hundreds of people affected by blindness. He describes his blindness as an inconvenience instead of a disability. Rather than focusing on what he cannot do, he explores what he can do. 

That philosophy is really a lesson for all of us, isn’t it? We all face some level of adversity or choose to see the perceived impediments to our dreams. Overcoming the obstacles in our lives is never easy, but Dan’s example proves that with dedicated focus and unconditional support, it IS possible.

We've received a lot of donations to the two blindness foundations we're supporting. Thank you! For those who haven't donated, but would like to, the page is still open:


We're getting lots of press interest, and more press is in the works. We have even more TV and print coverage coming up later in the month... 

I am so proud of Dan and I am honored to have been a part of this experience!!

Here are a few more pics:

Enjoying my favorite activity…handstands by the Grand Canyon

Group pic at Phantom Ranch: Alison Qualter Berna, Charles Scott, Dan Berlin, Brad Graff, and Pete Kardasis
Approaching the Colorado River

Pausing to party on the way up the North Rim