As the program from his memorial service, still on the wall next to my computer screen, reminds me, today marks five years to the day that the world lost Jeremy Hill. I really only knew Jeremy in two capacities: as a Samfund Board member, and as a friend with a shared cancer story. Nonetheless, we had a very special relationship and I remain exceptionally grateful to have had him in my life.
What’s most fascinating to me, though, is how much I’ve learned about Jeremy – and the myriad ways he keeps popping up – in the years since his death. Because our friendship primarily existed in a cancer vacuum, I didn’t have much of a sense of the rest of his world. So I wasn’t expecting to see a line out the door at his memorial service, nor the call from the Bloomberg reporter wanting to write about him. I had no idea how many people would donate to The Samfund in his honor (so many, in fact, that we were able to establish a permanent grant in his name). And I certainly would never have imagined that someone would decide to row across the Atlantic and partner with The Samfund as his way of paying tribute to the impact Jeremy made on his life.
Enter John Schwartz.
Every so often, I get calls from someone wanting to make a donation in Jeremy’s memory. It’s always a wonderful surprise and I love the opportunity to connect with someone who knew him because it keeps him right here with us. So when John called the office and re-introduced himself over a year ago (we had traded emails around the time of Jeremy’s memorial service), I thought I knew how the conversation was going to go.
First John told me that he and Jeremy had been close friends while working together at JP Morgan. Then he told me that he and his brother, Kurt, wanted to do something meaningful in his honor. And then he told me what that “something” actually was. Needless to say, I was totally speechless. (I mean, what do you say when someone tells you that he is getting into a boat on one side of the ocean and rowing all the way to other – for “fun?”) We talked and emailed a lot in the subsequent weeks and months, which is when I began to get my head around what they were doing, and why.
There are so many parts of this story that are amazing in their own right: the amount of training involved, the fact that anyone would spend weeks racing on a boat with no motor, no sails, and only one other person for company, the level of sheer determination and endurance required for this feat. It has been equally incredible to witness the Schwartz bond, with family and friends traveling from all over to support Kurt and John and each other, and to watch the community of cheerleaders grow as more and more people have learned about their story.
For 79 days, we watched along as the brothers of Row 32 North rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, the only US pair in the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. We stayed glued to our computer screens this past Friday when they reached the finish line in Antigua. And now we are planning a welcome home celebration in NYC, to bring together all of the friends, family members, and colleagues who have collectively been holding their breath and simultaneously cheering them on every stroke of the way.
Just as Jeremy came into my life at top speed, so did he bring John and Kurt years later – and without knowing it – in the same fashion. Over the past 14 or so months, “the boys,” as so many affectionately refer to them, have become family. They took on this amazing challenge, have raised nearly $25,000 for our programs so far (including, of course, the grant in Jeremy’s name) and quite literally brought us along for a pretty amazing ride. (See The Samfund’s logo on the front of their boat, below. I think it’s safe to say we got the easy end of the bargain.) Beyond that, though, I personally feel incredibly fortunate to have gotten to know them, not only because it strengthens my connection to Jeremy but also because they are two of the most humble, determined, generous, and kind people I’ve ever known.
And so, it’s absolutely, cosmically perfect that they completed this unimaginable journey during the first week of March. Thank you, John and Kurt, for accomplishing such a Herculean feat for the benefit of The Samfund and for keeping Jeremy’s spirit so vividly alive. I have no doubt that if Jeremy were still here, he’d be in Antigua, waiting for you at the finish line, cold beers in hand. —Sam