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Viktor Frankl

"When we are no longer able

to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." 

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  • elizobrien

Jesse/Wedding Speech

It is not easy to describe one’s child. As parents, our perspectives are skewed by blind love, fear, frustration, hope, tenderness, anger, forgiveness, joy, and our own narcissism. After all, aren’t our children reflections of ourselves?

But here goes.

When Jesse (on right in photo) was born, and the doctor placed him in my arms, I took one look at his bright blue eyes and his beautiful, squished face and had an epiphany that changed my life: I get it now, I thought. THIS IS THE MEANING OF MY LIFE! That epiphany returned twice more, with Owen and Sam, and it has never left me.

At the beginning, Jesse and I were alone against the world. Two days after his birth, Michael had to leave for a photo shoot. There we were, baby Jesse and I, in a rough loft in lower Manhattan, above a Greek souvlaki vendor warehouse that cranked up at dawn, and dispatched dozens of garlic-y Greek push-carts out to the street masses. It was a colorful neighborhood on the West Side, just off Canal Street. Jesse graduated from Snugli to backpack to stroller before we moved to Brooklyn and welcomed his siblings, Owen and Sam.

He was an exuberant child. His energy was such that at two, he insisted upon helping with the chores and laundry; by 4, he was washing his own clothes. He rarely sat still, and was interested in everything—particularly animals, the outdoors, water, and sports. It was a relief when we moved to Austin, a natural paradise. He entered Forest Trail in second grade and quickly began making lifelong friends—many of whom are his groomsmen today: Jeff, Austin, Tyler, Matthew and Evan…and later, Matt and Jack. The group has swelled and morphed over time, and though their lives have diverged, they are still something of a posse. Jesse’s resilience became evident early on. When my brother George gave him an old canoe, at 11, it became an obsession. I’ll never forget the day, at Emma Long Park, when he stepped into the canoe before we could join him and the current swept him away. Michael and I were frantic on shore, dialing 911, no Jesse in sight. Thirty minutes later, we spotted a smiling, triumphant Jesse, motoring back against the strong current. Somehow, he’d started the recalcitrant old motor and saved himself.

While the teenage years were—shall we leave it at memorable—the boys finally began to grow up. Jesse started setting serious goals for himself; he ran two Austin marathons, a Big Bend ultra-marathon, went skydiving, and joined Matthew for the grueling Texas Water Safari, a sleepless, 260-mile canoe race from Hell. When Matthew became delirious and had to quit, Jesse soldiered on alone in the middle of the night.

He discovered CrossFit in Vietnam, of all places, where he was spending a college summer in Ho Chi Minh City. A close family friend set him up with an internship at Highlands Coffee—the Starbucks of Vietnam—and Jesse was living alone with no language skills. CrossFit became his haven. Once he returned to the States, he took up CrossFit in Fort Worth, where he was attending TCU. Upon his graduation with a business degree, his passion continued back in Austin, when he started coaching, and then became part-owner, at Westlake CrossFit. While there, he became determined to travel to an ashram in India with some Canadian fitness colleagues to teach CrossFit to the children at the ashram’s orphanage. He set up a challenge for himself to complete 500 burpees as a fundraiser for the purpose. For those who don’t know, burpees are tortuous jumping jacks dropping to push-ups in a single motion. Although he nearly collapsed from the effort, he raised the money for the trip. Later, he and those same colleagues sponsored a gifted Indian youth from the orphanage to travel to America for a CrossFit certification.

Amanda entered the picture when the two met at Nick and Whitney’s wedding. Jesse proudly introduced us to her at Chuy’s on my birthday. It wasn’t long before this grounded, pretty blonde, formerly a cheerleader at Katy High School, became a fixture. She graduated from Texas State with honors, and soon plunged into the fitness business with him. She became his anchor. In the almost seven years since we’ve known her, she’s become a cherished family member, integral to all family gatherings and vacations in Port Aransas. She faithfully shows up at our BurgerFi dinners on Sunday nights, where she has adopted 89-year-old Gran as her honorary grandmother.

Meanwhile, Jesse has embarked upon another adventure. With Central Athlete in downtown Austin, he is working hard to introduce a new fitness concept to Austin: individual program design and remote coaching. It’s a high-tech enterprise, complete with apps and fitness software that support reciprocity with the coaches and keep clients accountable.

Now it’s Jesse’s turn to become accountable—to Amanda. As of tomorrow night, Michael and I will have a beautiful new daughter—this on the heels of welcoming Kemper, Owen’s husband, into the family. Our clan here in Austin—including nephew Charles, as well as nephew Stephen, his wife Ethel and daughter Hannah—is growing. Michael and I are grateful. Our children are truly bonded; they hang out together—rock-climbing, swimming in Barton Creek, sharing meals.

And as our roles with our children start to reverse, it is Jesse, our firstborn, who is now taking care of us: making sure we stay fit, monitoring our diets, keeping close tabs. We can thank him for teaching us, his parents, the hardest of lessons: that our job now is to step back, embrace and accept.

I love you both!


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