Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

If I Could Go Back to One Place …

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: December 1, 2014 - 9:21 AM

As a travel journalist, people often ask me: “What’s the best place you’ve ever been?” Or, “If you could go back to one place, where would it be?” In the past half decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many of the world’s most beautiful vistas and stay at some of the fanciest resorts in picturesque settings such as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry and Scotland’s remote highlands. 

So it’s a challenging––and fun––question. Having given it serious thought, I have to say that if I could return to one resort out of all the destinations I travelled in the past couple years, it would be Little Palm Island Resort & Spa off the Florida Keys. 

The private, 5-acre island resort off-shore from the southernmost tip of the United States offers its own unique slice of paradise. Countless factors make Little Palm Island stand out––it was named the No. 1 beach resort in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure––so I’ll do my best to highlight 5 reasons why it tops my list.

1. The Setting

You leave your car and main-land mentality behind at Little Palm’s welcome station near Key West, then take a 15-minute cruise onboard a 1930s-style motor boat to reach the private island. When my wife and I visited in October of 2013, we were immediately greeted at the landing dock by Renda, a blonde from Ohio who fell in love with the island a decade ago and is now a Little Palm Island manager. “Welcome! You must be Tony and Jodie! The staff will take your bags. Come with me, I’ll give you a tour of the island.”

 

We smiled in awe of the path Renda led us down––a West-facing dining room on the edge of the beach; a sequestered pool shaded by giant palm trees next to an outdoor bar; a marina with kayaks, paddle boards and motorboats for us to use whenever we wanted; a rustic library with a take-a-book, leave-a-book policy as well as the only TV on the island; an over-size chess board beside the trail to a plush spa; a Zen garden and a gazebo overlooking the ocean; and, finally, at the far corner of the island, our romance suite: a thatched-roof bungalow on the water complete with our own fire-pit, deck, outdoor Jacuzzi and open-air bamboo shower.

“The reason we’re consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world is because we truly embrace our mantra, ‘Get Lost,’” said Matt Trahan, the regional managing director of Little Palm Island’s parent company, Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Guests get to disconnect from the real world and re-connect with each other, and the island has a very peaceful vibe in the lap of luxury.”


It’s a vibe similar to that found in the South Pacific or West Indies, and as amazed as I am that such a luxurious, jungle-island paradise exists anywhere on earth, I am almost equally surprised that all I had to do to reach it was jump on a plane to Miami and drive a couple hours. To me, that convenience and low-cost in reaching the resort scores it major points. It also makes it more desirable to return to Little Palm Island, since it’s not exactly easy to devote days to traveling to far-flung corners of the globe.


“Many people think that the serene ambiance of Little Palm can only be found thousands of miles away,” Trahan said. “With only 30 suites on a 5-acre island, privacy and solitude are definite. Of course, there are many activities to do, from deep-sea fishing to sea plane tours.”


2. The Service


Every Noble House Hotels & Resorts property I’ve ever visited has offered truly great service. Not the easy-to-claim “great service” you see plastered on the website of every hotel in the U.S., but the type of dedication by committed individuals, like Renda, who learn your name and your preferences, and who make your stay so much better that you remember them years later. 


At Little Palm’s welcome station on the mainland, a greeter checking us in before the boat ride to the island had asked if there was any special occasion that brought us to Little Palm. Jodie had responded casually: “No, not really, but we’re kind of celebrating our anniversary.”


The next night we had dinner on the beach by the tikki torches. When we opened the menu, we saw a shocking headline at the top of the menu: “Happy 4th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Capecchi.” Even the banana split I ordered for dessert was adorned with a chocolate “Happy Anniversary” wish. All because of one comment my wife made. Now that, is truly great service. 


With personal touches like that, it’s no wonder why guests return to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa as if it’s a religious pilgrimage. One couple was married at Little Palm Island 18 years ago (the island offers a wedding coordinator among its 110-person staff and celebrates 30 weddings a year) and has returned every year since. In 2014, the couple brought their twin daughters to celebrate their birthday with a Sweet Sixteen celebration on the beach.  


3. The Fishing

It’s easy to see why Little Palm Island was once the favored fishing camp for Presidents Truman, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Besides the setting, the service and the food (which I’ll get to next), Little Palm Island is literally surrounded by fish. I caught close to 100 fish a day during my stay, including over half a dozen species that were new to me. Most of my fish came simply while fishing from shore while my wife sunbathed on the beach a few yards away, but my favorite highlight came catching a shark while fishing on a stand-up paddle board.


It was also quite entertaining to feed the fish I caught to Spencer, Little Palm Island’s resident heron. After tossing Spencer a few snappers, I became his new best friend and he took one fish literally out of my hand.


4. The Dining Experience


Dining at Little Palm Island is quite the experience. The Dining Room, created by distinguished executive Chef Luis Pous, was named “Best Hotel Dining Experience” in Florida and third best in the entire U.S. by Zagat Survey. For good reason, it received Zagat’s highest possible scores with an “extraordinary to perfection” distinction. 


Pous’ Cuban heritage and love of the Caribbean have inspired him to create unique dishes such as Foie Gras Cuban sandwiches and Key West lobster with apple, truffle, tarragon and Key Lime risotto. The food is delicious, but the atmosphere is what takes the dining to another level.


I already mentioned the personalized dinner menu for our anniversary, but I failed to describe our table. It was on the beach, mere feet from the ocean. A key deer wandered up to our table, while a live pianist played in the background, and the stars above teamed with tikki torches to provide us with light. Unforgettable. 


 

5. The Adventures

The quantity and quality of activities and adventures awaiting at Little Palm Island are amazing. My wife and I enjoyed a private sailboat ride on the LilyAnna, a sleek 38-foot Admiral-class Catamaran built in South Africa. Our captain brought us to the best snorkeling site we’ve ever enjoyed, plus we trolled along the way and caught barracuda and goliath grouper. 


Other adventure options also include scuba diving, sky diving, deep sea fishing, eco tours and helicopter and sea plane rides to deserted islands. 


Every stay at Little Palm Island also includes complementary usage of stand-up paddleboards, Boston Whaler motor boats, fishing poles and shrimp for bait. The staff provides a helpful map and instructions on fun adventures you can go on yourself with the boats––for example motoring to nearby snorkeling hotspots or visiting one of Little Palm’s nearby vacant islands for birding or beachcombing. 


It’s tempting to spend all day at Little Palm Island on the beach or in the pool with a drink in hand (and you should definitely do that for at least one day), but by the same token you could spend a month at the resort and never get bored with all of the adventurous possibilities.

 
Going Back


Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past couple years, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is definitely the one place I’d most like to return. Lucky for me, I’ll have a chance to do just that in May of 2015! To say I’m excited would a huge understatement. 

I rarely return anywhere twice because there are so many sites in the world I won’t get a chance to see even once before my one and only life is over, but Little Palm Island is a very, very special place. The more days I spend on that island, the better. And as the website says, it is “so close, yet so far away.”

 
I will be writing a series of articles on my adventures at Little Palm Island this spring, as well as shooting a daily video blog highlighting my life on paradise island. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll hook another big shark on a paddle board, or have a key deer buck walk up to me during dinner on the beach, or catch a giant barracuda while sailing into the sunset.


I do know this: It will be memorable, and I will have many great photos, videos and stories to share. So please wish me well on the adventure, and stay tuned for terrific tales of island adventure next spring.  


The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. To contact the resort, call 800.343.8567 or email getlost@littlepalmisland.com. 

Best of the Best: Top 5 Destinations of 2014

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: November 17, 2014 - 9:39 AM

The Bucket List is entrenched in American culture, but a Crib List is a newer notion––the idea of seeing and doing things before that first baby arrives in a crib and forever changes life as you know it. My wife and I had our first baby this July, so we hit the Crib List hard in 2014. 

The first half of the year found us traveling at a frenzied pace, from the East Coast (Boston) to the West (Vancouver), from big cities (Chicago and St. Louis) to the middle of nowhere (a puddle jumper to the north end of Vancouver Island, then a float plane to a cabin on a dock attached to the base of a mountain near Alaska).

The heli-hiking, biking, mountain climbing, sailing, paddle boarding, fishing, bear-watching and whale-watching provided incredible moments. And the lodges and resorts we visited were, truly, beyond belief. Five-star destinations with over-the-top amenities, impeccable service and delicious food fit for a king. 

Through it all, these five resorts emerged as the crème-de-la-crème. Here is the Best of the Best, top five destinations of 2014.
 

Hotel Del Coronado
Coronado Island, San Diego

 


As we discovered, it turns out picture-perfect moments are not all that uncommon at The Hotel Del Coronado. The National Historic Landmark, with its distinctive red roofs contrasting the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, has stood as an icon since 1888.

For more than 125 years, the Del has drawn people from all over the world, including every American president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s easy to see why. It is the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, and it sits on 26 acres of what has often been named the No. 1 beach in America: Coronado Beach.

The attraction is greater than beautiful buildings and breathtaking beaches, however; the Del, with its aged, wooden character and its smiling, devoted staff, exudes an authentic charm you can’t create or capture. Simply put, it’s one of a kind.

After reading about the hotel in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” my wife and I thought we’d add the hotel to our list of “1 Place to See Before You Have Kids.” And so, four months into our first pregnancy, we decided to pack our bags and leave behind a record-breaking cold Minnesota winter in favor of the sparkling beaches of Coronado Island. The Grand Lady by the Sea, as the Hotel Del Coronado is affectionately referred to, did not disappoint us.

Click here to read the full story of our trip to Hotel Del Coronado, which included decadent dining on America’s No. 1 beach, catching a leopard shark, and a picture-perfect ocean sunset.

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia
 
 


Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless. 
...

Days before boarding the helicopter, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.

The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

Click here to read to read the full story of my adventures at Nimmo Bay, which included stand-up paddle-boarding, hiking through old-growth forests, and the best bear-watching of my life. 

The Commons Hotel
Minneapolis

 

Five years ago I married my best friend. In the half decade since, we have travelled the world and explored the far-flung corners of the globe. But life changed this July. The birth of our first child changed our traveling pace, and reduced our desire to venture far from home.
 
So to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary we sought a memorable getaway close to home. We found it in The Commons Hotel, an award-winning destination in high-energy Minneapolis, in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s campus. The hotel, a member of the distinguished Noble House Hotels & Resorts family, embodies the inner geek in a very chic manner. 

“We want people to explore their inner geek, we want them to be explorers. Travelers today want to explore the area and we encourage them to do that,” said Kelly Commerford, director of marketing at The Commons.  The industrial schoolhouse property embraces diversity through the common desire to discover. My wife and I walked in the doors on a sunny autumn afternoon and immediately felt the hotel’s unique vibe. 

Click here to read the full story of our “staycation” at The Commons, which included fishing from the banks of the Mississippi, dinner at The Beacon Public House and some unusual s’mores.


The Grand Del Mar
Del Mar, California
 


In the days of the Wild West, there was only one trail into San Diego. Pioneers seeking new land and new lives traversed the desert through Los Peñasquitos Canyon on oxen-pulled wagons until they hit the Pacific Ocean and could go no further.

Today, San Diego is a booming tourist attraction––for good reason––and the old canyon trail is all but forgotten. My wife and I re-traced the journey during a day’s hike under the blazing sun and discovered the canyon’s rugged beauty has only intensified over the past century of obsolescence. And while it feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere, the natural beauty of Los Peñasquitos Canyon is tucked away just a few miles from one of the most luxurious resorts in the world: The Grand Del Mar.

With opulent, Mediterranean-style architecture and design, The Grand Del Mar features an exotic mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian design elements. The creation of this modern-day marvel is truly amazing. More than 800 craftspeople spent over a million man-hours in creating the current-day palace.

There were 120 carpenters who worked more than 150,000 hours designing and installing 16 different wood species––including fine walnut, mahogany, olive, alder, sycamore and maple accents––with 35 different finishes. There are more than 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors. There are also more than 50 chandeliers, 500 fabrics and 1,700 pieces of custom-designed furniture and art.

Click here to read the full story of our visit to The Grand Del Mar, which included sailing, whale-watching and hiking San Diego, one of the most bio-diverse regions in the U.S.  
 

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel
Vancouver

 


In the 2004 Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal,” Hanks’ character gets stuck living at an airport for months on end due to immigration details and a revolution in his native country of Krakozhia. Humor abounds as Hanks endures the misery of living in the confines of an airport, a drudgery only slightly offset by a lovely flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta Jones.

The movie works because viewers appreciate all the inconveniences and stereotypical stuffiness associated with staying at the airport. Sympathy for Hanks’ character would not be found, however, had Hanks been flying through Vancouver and found himself at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, as I did several weeks ago.

The soundproofed hotel, situated within Vancouver’s International Airport (YVR) above the U.S. departures terminal, is anything but your typical airport hotel. The luxury hotel offers 5-star caliber accommodations, breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the runway in front of Vancouver’s mountains, diverse dining choices, and an indoor pool, health club and spa. 

Click here to read the full story of my stay at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, which included mountain hiking, the scenic Sea-to-Sky Drive, and the best salmon fishing of my life. 
 

An Uncommon Adventure Near Home

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation Updated: October 22, 2014 - 12:07 PM

Five years ago I married my best friend. In the half decade since, we have travelled the world and explored the far-flung corners of the globe. But life changed this July. The birth of our first child changed our traveling pace, and reduced our desire to venture far from home. 

So to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary we sought a memorable getaway close to home. We found it in The Commons Hotel, an award-winning destination in high-energy Minneapolis, in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s campus. The hotel, a member of the distinguished Noble House Hotels & Resorts family, embodies the inner geek in a very chic manner. 


 

“We want people to explore their inner geek, we want them to be explorers. Travelers today want to explore the area and we encourage them to do that,” said Kelly Commerford, director of marketing at The Commons. “We’re on the edge of Minneapolis and St. Paul, so you can go directly into downtown Minneapolis to explore the nightlife and shopping on Nicollet Mall––a great location.”

The industrial schoolhouse property embraces diversity through the common desire to discover. My wife and I walked in the doors on a sunny autumn afternoon and immediately felt the hotel’s unique vibe. 

The hotel’s Watson filament light bulbs, tin-pressed ceilings, argyle patterns, and molecular design-chandeliers ooze energy, as does it too-cool-for-school library, with antique typewriters, leather loveseats and spectacular fireplace. 


 

“The Commons is the living room of the University of Minnesota,” Commerford said. “We are on campus, so the whole idea it so pay homage to the U of M. And it’s not your typical hotel – we really have fun here. There is no special request that we won’t handle at the hotel. Our staff is trained to ensure they engage with our customers and provide them a very unique experience.”

The hotel hosts weddings, football fans (you can walk to TCF Bank Stadium), weekend staycations like ours, and frequent business meetings

“We’re trying to create a relaxed environment that promotes the sharing of ideas,” says Sean Mullen, Noble House’s chief sales and marketing officer. “When we think of business, we think of shirts and ties, and big business suits. Those times are still here, but the formalities are going away.” 

That’s why when Noble House opened The Commons Hotel last fall, it didn’t just add Wi-Fi and call it a day. It took the best elements of its other properties and expanded on them, taking this new opportunity to spin the hotel’s “geek chic” theme into the meeting spaces. 

After all, curiosity begets creativity. Common areas, called “Think Tanks” are both educational spaces and places for conversation between meetings, where frequent business groups compose ideas on wheeled-in chalkboards or kick back alone in a deep armchair for some quiet time with one of the hundreds of heady titles lining the book shelf. 
 

Meeting attendees are encouraged to participate in spelling bees and games of Jenga; meanwhile, college students and guests of all sorts frequent the hotel’s own Starbucks. 

As for the typical cookie and coffee snack break room, forget about it. Instead, how about an interactive and educational “Mad Scientist Break” where lab-coat donning staff prepares dishes like spiced pumpkin ice cream made on the spot with liquid nitrogen?

“By putting something in a fun atmosphere, something that is unique, it creates a new dynamic where conversation can start outside the meeting room,” said Duane Rohrbaugh, general manager at The Commons. 

There has certainly been plenty of conversation about The Commons during its short existence. The young hotel already boasts a long list of awards, including a 2014 TripAdvisor Award of Excellence and a claim as a 2013 Fodor’s 100 Hotel Award Winner. The pile of awards shows The Commons belongs as part of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts family. The exclusive hotel management company operates some of the top-rated hotels in the world.

In fact, my wife and I visited another Noble House property, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, roughly one year prior to our trip to The Commons. There, we vacationed in a private bungalow on a tropical island off the Florida Keys in what was hands-down the most spectacular stay we’ve ever had in the U.S. 

The Commons, naturally, was a completely different setting––it is, in fact, Noble House’s only Midwest hotel––but the service and hospitality was without question consistent with the excellent standard set by all Noble House hotels. 

My wife and I enjoyed walking The Commons’ grounds and loved hanging out in the hotel’s common areas. We even strolled down to the nearby Mississippi River and did a little fishing from the bank. But we also enjoyed simply hanging out in our room, which offered a great view of the city and had a vibe all of its own. 

“The whole idea behind the guest room concept is we want the guests to feel very comfortable. We have a great workstation in every one of our guestrooms,” Commerford said. “But it’s not your traditional business workspace, it’s more residential. We have a very contemporary design. Subway tile in the bathrooms, very modern, 57-inch TV screens that go beyond TV––you can order room service or you can order books from our book butler.”

Room service sounded good––when you’re out for your first night without the baby, lying in bed and watching TV is a luxury you never knew you missed so much––but we had to check out the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Beacon Public House. The farm-to-fresh, table style restaurant did not disappoint. 

For dinner, we sat outside on the deck sipping several specialty cocktails, such as “The Keys” (key lime, meyers lemon, reposado tequila, patron citronage) and “Age of Innocence” (cranberry shrub, organic vodka, lemon, patron citronage). We munched on popcorn shrimp and Wisconsin cheese curds, as well as delicious soups and salads. 

We paced ourselves, and slowly moved inside for the main course of fillet mignon and fish and chips, surrounded by thick cut fries, asparagus and baby carrots. For dessert, we topped things off with a fun dessert of make-your-own s’mores. 



 

The meal was so wonderful, and the service so good, we decided to return the next morning for brunch. It’s a lively atmosphere––the Minnesota Vikings were playing at home that afternoon, so we saw lots of Purple fans walking the streets as we again dined outside. 

After a long, lazy brunch we packed our bags and checked out feeling refreshed. Our staycation ––which was both our 5-year anniversary and our first getaway post-baby––could not have gone any better, thanks to an uncommon hotel in our own backyard.

The website for The Commons Hotel is www.commonshotel.com. For more information, call 612.379.8888 or email reservations@commonshotel.com.




 

 

In addition to 304 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of banquet rooms, The Commons also offers guests complimentary passes to the U of M athletic and aquatic center, which features an official NCAA swimming pool. 

The hotel also boasts fun perks and clubs for its members, such as Club Alchemy and various reward and  welcome programs, which includes updates and various amenities of the month (in our case, chocolate!). 

We received a trendy gift bag with various goodies, including a pair of chic, geek glasses we gave to our baby as a souvenir of Mom and Dad’s first night away of his life. As much fun as we had at The Commons, I’m sure Joseph will want to go there someday. 

 


 

Still Running for a Cure

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: October 3, 2014 - 8:33 AM

A year ago, it didn’t look like Matt Zechmann would be around to see the 2nd Annual Desmoid Dash on October 11, 2014. For five years my old high school buddy had been battling an exceptionally rare and potentially deadly form of cancer, a desmoid tumor. He’s survived several close calls over the years, but catastrophe struck last November. 

Major complications followed a 13-hour operation at the Mayo Clinic to remove a football-sized desmoid tumor from Matt’s abdomen. On one horrific night, just weeks before Matt’s 30th birthday, he started hemorrhaging blood at an incredible pace and family members were warned this would likely be the end.

But a diverse team of Mayo’s finest doctors saved Matt that night and he beat the odds––despite losing a staggering 750 milliliters of blood––to earn an appropriate nickname among the Mayo staff: Superman.

And while the original Superman worked alone to save lives, Matt is working with people across the Twin Cities to try to save lives––his own, and others who suffer from the same incurable disease. 

He and his younger sister, Nicole, organized the inaugural Desmoid Dash 5K Run/Walk last year to raise money for researching a cure for desmoids, which affects two out of every one million people in the U.S. 

“I have come a long ways on this, but it’s still a very tough thing for me to ask people to donate their money or time to benefit me,” said Matt, who is funny, charming and gregarious, but never wants to be the center of attention. “I know there are a lot of great causes out there, and there are people who face worse outcomes and odds than I have faced. This community boosts my spirit because I think about my tumor constantly every day––when it will come back, how aggressive it might be growing, the side effects it could cause again.” 

“I also think about how the disease has already changed my life a great deal,” said Matt. “The scariest part is the realization that this is a part of the rest of my life. It’s really scary knowing that none of the current treatments for desmoids worked for me and that I can no longer undergo another surgery. But seeing people signing up for the race, or liking the Desmoid Dash Facebook page, or posting a photo, is a huge boost mentally.”

Because the disease is so rare, virtually no government or public funding exists for research. The only chance Matt and others with desmoids have is through fundraisers like the Desmoid Dash. 

The Run––How You Can Help 

This year’s 5K Run/Walk is on Saturday, October 11 at 9:00am at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, where Matt graduated high school. 

“Matt is one of our own,” said Mike Maxwell, Director of Alumni Relations at St. Thomas. “We want to do whatever we can to help Matt, and we’re honored that the Zechmanns want to host their event at our school.” 

You can register at the event for $40, or in advance online for $30 (children are $20). Tax deductible donations can also be made online

“Following the surgery last winter, Matt will no longer be able to tolerate any more surgeries, so finding new, more effective treatments is our only hope if he has a recurrence,” said Nicole, noting that 70% of desmoid patients who already had one recurrence will have future recurrences. Matt’s tumor has already re-occurred once within a year of being surgically removed the first time. “The work we are doing truly could be what helps saves Matt’s life, and the lives of other desmoid patients.” 

“As Matt’s mother, I’ve felt helpless,” says Sue Zechmann. “Conversely, it’s empowering to try to make a difference through this event, not just for Matt but for the thousands of others afflicted with this rare cancer.” 

Last year, Nicole led a group of Matt’s friends to organize the event and the results were astounding. More than 300 runners came out to the event, and some $50,000 was raised for desmoid tumor research.

“This event is a constant reminder that I have an army of great people supporting me,” said Matt. “Part of why Nicole and I started the Desmoid Dash was to take something negative and turn it into something positive.” 

This year, Matt, Nicole and their team of friends hope to raise $100,000 for research.

Touched by Superman

I know Matt doesn’t want to be a superhero, but he is one. The affect he has on others is profound. “The Desmoid Dash is going to be Matt’s legacy,” said Matt’s friend Ryan Naughton, an active member on the Desmoid Dash committee. “Since his diagnosis, he has raised almost half a million dollars for the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation.”

“But more than that, Matt has taught me to live every single day. Matt’s journey has been truly inspiring me and all of my friends. How can he go through all of his struggles, surgeries and complications with a smile?” Ryan asked in awe. “Even during Matt’s weakest moments, he was happy, positive and witty. Even when Matt could only stay awake for a few minutes at a time, he wanted to know how other people were doing. He truly cares about everybody he knows.”

The Zechmann family has countless stories of Matt’s incredible grace. “The day following Matt’s surgery (last winter), Matt could barely speak,” recalled Sue. “He struggled to whisper to me, ‘Mom, please thank the nurses for me because I can’t.’”

“While fighting for his life in the hospital, he managed to remain grateful, positive and maintain his sense of humor,” Nicole said. “When praying with hospital chaplains, he would always pray for others, but never for himself. It was remarkable.” 

Of course, there were lighter moments, too, thanks to Matt’s indomitable spirit and sense of humor. 

“I remember Matt coming out of his 13-hour surgery,” recalled Nicole. My parents and I walked into the room and the nurse asked Matt if we were his family. He kept a straight face and said, ‘I’ve never seen these people before in my life!’” 

 “He is an inspiration to me. I’ve always looked up to Matt, but the way he handles this situation has made me recognize even more so what an incredible person my brother is,” Nicole said. “Matt has truly made me a better person, and I feel really fortunate that he is my brother.”

I am certainly fortunate that Matt is my friend––and that I know someone with his extraordinary grace and strength. And so, while this story isn’t about traveling or the great outdoors, it’s a story that must be told. 

Because if a person like Matt doesn’t deserve our help, who does? 

For his part, Matt continues to be realistic yet optimistic. “Sometimes the reality of there not being a cure sets in,” Matt told me quietly. “But truthfully, I feel very lucky. I have many wonderful things going on in my life, including amazing family and friends.” 

To sign up for the race, click here

For more general info on the Desmoid Dash 5K Run/Walk, visit www.desmoiddash.com.

To "like" the Desmoid Dash Facebook page to show Matt your support, visit https://www.facebook.com/DesmoidDash5K

Above: Matt and his sister, Nicole, thanking the 300 people who participated in last year's Desmoid Dash. 

Below: The Zechmann family (from left to right: Jim, Sue, Nicole and Matt) at a recent fundraiser run in Philadelphia which also raises money for the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation. 

The shirts were a gift from Matt’s employer, Schneider National. While recovering from surgery, Matt missed eight straight months of work. His co-workers had a surprise waiting for Matt on the first day he was healthy enough to return to work. When he walked into the office for the first time in three-quarters of a year, all 150 office employees were wearing shirts they created. The shirts read: “It came, he fought, he conquered, Zechmann Strong.”  

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