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People Who Do Things That People Don't Do

by Amy Marxkors

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Barring the illegal and immoral, it’s good to be friends with people who do things that people don’t do. Those people are the most fun people. Those people have the best stories. Those people are the ones who ask, “Why not?”

My friend Dan Duffy is one of those people. 

I consider myself a pretty fortunate person. I have an incredible family. I’m not lactose intolerant. I have power windows and locks on my car (finally!). And, for some reason, Dan Duffy agreed to be my friend. More than that, he even asked me to help edit his book. 

Here’s what you need to know about Dan Duffy: he has red hair, he will always hold the door for you, and he is 100 percent genuine. Prompted by his own experience battling and beating testicular cancer, he founded The Half Fund, a nonprofit organization that uses art—such as films, documentaries, books, and music—to illustrate the realities of a cancer diagnosis and generate funds for existing cancer charities. The Half Fund, like the sea cucumber, is completely self-regenerating. How? 

The Half Fund provides a grant for a mass media project. The project is made. Half of the proceeds are then given to the cancer charity of the artist’s choice. The other half of the proceeds are fed back into The Half Fund (get it? half?) in order to fuel more projects. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It is the first 501(c)(3) entity of its kind. 

Cancer, art, and self-regenerating funds. It just didn’t exist. That is, until Dan Duffy came around.

Dan Duffy is the Encyclopedia Britannica of hilarious and harrowing stories. If the I Ching and the National Enquirer had a kid, you’d get a Dan Duffy original. And should you ever get a chance to grab a coffee with Dan, bring a seatbelt and a Kleenex. You will laugh, you will cry, and then you’ll laugh while you’re crying—probably at the most heartbreaking point of the story—and you’ll feel terrible for laughing, and then Dan will tell you not to feel terrible because that’s the point. You laugh because you feel an emotion and you cry because you feel an emotion and sometimes you feel both emotions at the same time. Because you’re human. And it’s okay to be human. That’s the spirit behind The Half Fund: to illustrate our shared, daily humanity—and how cancer impacts our human experience. 

It’s also why The Half Fund’s first film—appropriately titled Half—which tells the true story of a young man diagnosed with testicular cancer, is a comedy.

Check number two on the list of things people don’t do. 

Number three? Writing a book. Start to finish. In a month.

“People don’t write a book in a month,” I said as he reached over the table to hand me the manuscript. I shook my head. “They just… don’t.”

A couple of months later, as we discussed the publishing process over coffee, he told me that several other people—writers and publishers included—told him the same thing.

“You know why I think I could do it?” he said, reflecting on the manuscript he didn’t know was so unusual. “Because nobody told me I couldn’t. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to.” He shrugged. “So I just did it.” 

Jackie Pirtle-HallAnother person who does things that people just don’t do? Jackie Pirtle-Hall. If you live in St. Louis, you’ve probably heard of her.

Jackie is a platinum member of the “People Who Do Things That People Don’t Do” club. In 2012, she set the course record at the GO! St. Louis Marathon with a 2:42. Just two weeks later, she trekked to Champaign to race the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon—where she set another course record, running 2:44. Two marathons. Two course records. In two weeks.

People just don’t do that.

And then last Saturday happened. 

After running the highly competitive Houston Marathon in January (where she was the 10th American female to finish), Jackie was sidelined by a devastating Achilles injury. Running was out of the question; so were biking and the elliptical. For four months, Jackie was on the DL, confined to water-jogging in the pool. 

Three weeks before the Illinois Marathon this past Saturday, she hopped on the treadmill. Forget that she hadn’t run since January. She was going to race.

And she did. And she won. In 2:54. (You can read the story here.)

Guys. People just don’t do that.

It’s good to surround yourself with people who do things that people don't do. The people who dream not so much the impossible dream as the crazy one. The people that make you shake your head. The people that bewilder. Like Dan. And Jackie.  

Because then, when you have a crazy dream of your own, you'll have someone around to ask, "Well, why not?"


Amy L. MarxkorsAmy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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