29 May 2015

19 appearances, a 12th FA Cup, and a 49-mile walk.

Come Saturday, the lucky few among the Gooner diaspora will make their way towards Wembley and take their seats. Some 25,000 strong will represent the rest of us by virtue of their dedication and passion for the club—but what of the hundreds of thousands of us who shout and scream our support from miles and time zones away? Without further ado, I introduce you to Rich Balabuszko, a Chicago Gooner, who has set out on a 49-mile walking in order to arrive at The Globe, Chicago's best pub for watching Arsenal action, in time to see our lads take on the Villans. Please read on—Rich's march is raising money for the Starlight Children's Foundation, and we have a chance at making a meaningful difference in the lives of chronically ill children around the world.

If you want to cut to the chase and make a donation, here's a link you can use. It offers a brief summary of what Rich is up to and why it matters. The Starlight Foundation strives to make the hospital experiences of chronically ill children more tolerable, more comfortable, and, yes, more enjoyable. More than 60 million children around the world have benefitted from the Foundation's programs. Gooners who have contributed so far are doing so in amounts relevant to Arsenal's achievements—$/£49, $/£18.86, $/£19.89, etc. For those of you with a longer attention-span or deeper desire to know where your money is going, read on...

Rich's connection to Arsenal dates back to some point in the late 1990s when he started watching matches at The Abbey and Ginger's Ale House. In his words, the other Arsenal fans were not just a bunch of d-bags. Plus, there was the Romford Pele. Pressed for details, Rich would call himself a Gooner from 'round about 1999.

He can therefore count himself as one of the original Chicago Gooners, who were at the time just a bunch of guys who were willing to rebrand their unhealthy, early-morning alcoholism under the guise of supporting a sports team whose matches aired at 7am. I kid. More seriously, Rich has made it a mission of his to proselytize, visiting Gooner-groups in Atlanta, Georgia; Washington, D.C.; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Orange County and Fresno, California; Austin, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and New Orleans, Louisiana. In short, he already suffers from wanderlust, but he at least has the good sense to wander with purpose.

At some hazy, sourmash-addled point in the recent past, Rich boasted that he "will walk to the Highbury Pub in Milwaukee" if Arsenal make it to the FA Cup final. That's a trek of some 80 miles (129 kilometers), and that boast was wisely whittled down to a more symbolic 49 miles (79 kilometers). If he walks those 49 miles, in his own words, "Arsenal simply have to win. That is not superstition. It is just a fact." If Rich has that kind of power over the outcome of Arsenal's matches, well, he'd better invest in some good walkin' boots.

It's rare that we get to combine a distraction with such a valuable mission. Consider how many hours of enjoyment Arsenal has given you over the years. Contrast that against the discomfort, anxiety, and agony of being bed-ridden with a chronic illness, unable to relax or unwind. The Starlight Foundation seeks to make life a little easier for children with life-threatening illnesses by renovating or updating hospital room and providing access to entertainment options that can alleviate the stress, anxiety, and depression that accompany those illnesses.

Whether Arsenal win or lose on Saturday, all of us have a chance to make the most of the moment by donating. Here's the link again. Click through and make a contribution!