Saturday Spotlight- Michele Berg

Me, Michele Rizzo (or Berg, or RizzoBerg or just Rizzo) I’ll let you choose…

Age, 39 (Entering the 40-45 May 2016)

Married 3 years to Richie (AKA “Richie Rock Star”) Berg
Mommy to SIXX and Jani, my cats, both named after hair metal rockers Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and Jani Lane from Warrant (yep)

Occupation: Center Director at the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts – I have a unique job that allows me to hang out with some pretty amazing musicians, some who are legendary.

Now that the basic introduction is out of the way, let me start by saying CONGRATULATIONS to all who completed the Suffolk Marathon & Half Marathon! Holy moly was that a tough race under some pretty hot weather conditions. Each and every one of you were AMAZING!

To begin…once I became a member of the “Hills” which I lovingly like to refer to as “The Secret Society” I look forward to the WOTW posts and when Lou asked me if I would be interested in letting all of you know about me, I was humbled, and terrified at the same time…Thank you Lou for giving me the spotlight this week, so, here I go…something for you to read while you’re making sure your stomachs are all good for the big race today…

Since I have to take you back to the “early years” I will start by saying that I am the middle child bookended by 2 brothers. There’s an 8 year age gap between my eldest brother and a 2 year age difference to my youngest. My parents divorced when I was 11 and one would think I would have rebelled, though that simply didn’t happen. I was always the “good” kid.
Although having 2 brothers, sports weren’t something the Rizzo’s focused on. My youngest brother likes baseball and I think hockey but neither of them played any sport in school, In fact, sports weren’t discussed, at all. We were a house filled with music and MTV was what I became obsessed with. Music became everything to me, the first video I remember seeing and having a resonating effect on me was Def Leppard’s “Foolin” it was at that moment, this girl fell in love with guys who had long hair (weird) and wore makeup (even weirder) – Though there was one video in particular that really sealed the deal for me and pretty much set the tone in regard to how I moved through my life from that point forward, and it was Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” My parents took me to my first concert in 1987 – Bon Jovi during their Slippery When Wet Tour at Madison Square Garden – My mom and my brother waited outside a video store, overnight, to get me tickets. That concert changed everything for me. When the lights went out, I turned to my brother and told him that one day, I wanted to work at a place that had concerts.

When it came to school, I hated it. I have never been book smart and I am a terrible test taker. I never had friends in my own grade, and I was teased in elementary school. I would come home in the 5th grade and cry because girls were so mean – SO MEAN! When I got to Jr. High, I made a few friends, but not many. I didn’t have the same interests as the other girls, when they all wanted to be cheer leaders, I wanted to go to concerts. I remember trying out for the cheer leading squad in 7th grade, to fit in, I showed up in a Skid Row shirt, and it was the obvious “Which one of these is not like the other?” I actually didn’t fit in anywhere – I didn’t smoke or do drugs, so I didn’t hang out with the “Burn outs” and I didn’t like sports so I didn’t hang out with the “jocks” – I just sort of did my own thing. When I hit high school, I made friends with guys in bands because my HS believe it or not had an after school club called “Rock Band Club” – Bands who had members going to my high school would get to play after school in the music wing and the “club” would set up and break down for the band and even get to sit in when they recorded their demo’s on the schools 8 track board. I loved it. I made some of my best friends at Rock Band Club.
Even though I had that, I hated school so much that I graduated 6 months early, not because I was “smart” but because I found out I had enough credits to do so, in January 1994 on a Monday evening I said “see ya” to high school at a ceremony that was for early graduates, and those who had been either left back or were night school finishers and started Five Towns College the very next day. I hated school but was told I needed to go to college, so I chose Five Towns because I wanted to be ANYWHERE near music and I thought I would be engaged, plus it would be a way to meet cute boys who played guitar – I was right on both counts. I studied Audio Recording Technology with a minor in Business – so basically I can record an album and then manage the band as well, I suppose.
After college, I fulfilled my dream of working at a music venue(s). I spent 5 years working at Westbury Music Fair booking opening acts, 3 summers at Jones Beach Amphitheater booking upcoming artists on an emerging artist’s stage, and 2 years at Nassau Coliseum and then to where I am now at the YMCA Boulton Center, I’m in my 10th year.
As mentioned sports are not something I know anything about, I have never, and I mean NEVER been athletic in any way at all, watching sports, in my opinion is like watching paint dry, which led me to never wanting to play any sport. I find one to be worse than the next. And running? Besides that awful mile around the school track, the only thing this girl ever ran towards was tour buses in an effort to meet my favorite “Rock star.”

It wasn’t until September / October 2009 that I took up running (sorry it took so long to get to this part) After living with a boyfriend for about 2 years, and being dumped the day after my 34th birthday (true story, very next day), my eldest brother the next morning moved me out of his house and moved me back into my mom’s. Those were some dark days. Although I knew in my heart that relationship wasn’t right for me, it still hurt just the same to be discarded and I cried for days. Actually, I cried for weeks – it’s all I did – I was a shell of myself. I was living back at my moms, had no idea how or where to even begin putting things back together because I sold all my stuff when I moved into his house, and basically had a few minor things like my bed and kitchen table from my old apartment. I was 35 lbs. heavier than I was when I started the relationship, and I barely saw any friends. I remember one day that I was tired of sleeping and crying so after work I would start venturing outside and go for walks. Those walks would take me further and further away from home and for those who run with me, you all know that this girl is petrified of ending up in someone’s van, so to get me back home quicker, I would start to move at a pace that was more of a run than of a walk. Those were some lonely running days, not only was I new to doing anything physical, I didn’t have any friends within my inner circle who ran.
Thanks to Facebook, I started seeing posts from 2 specific people who mentioned they went for runs, I guess because I never really did much running, I didn’t focus on their running posts, or paid attention to people who ran until I too started doing it, so seeing their posts got me excited to know someone else was doing what I was doing.

About 10 months after my failed relationship and taking part in my new fitness endeavor, I got reacquainted with my hubby, Richie Rockstar at a concert (we had been friends for many years) he is a gym rat who prefers barbells to treadmills, so thanks to my YMCA employment free gym membership, I was mainly running on a treadmill at the YMCA while he lifted, along with a few outside runs, alone (again, scared of vans). So after much creeping on my friend’s Facebook posts, I reached out to these two people in hopes of having some running buddies. I’m not sureKelly Kear Hoffmanor Cristina Negron have any idea how much of an effect they had on me or how grateful I am to them as they became my very first outdoor running partners. Kelly and Cristina were so much more advanced than I was and yet they were willing to meet me for runs. We would meet at the Holtsville Ecology center and they would run/walk with me as I struggled, and complained. Kelly was my hero, she would push her son Ryan, who was probably only 3 at the time, in the stroller and I thought she was so strong. Cristina has already from what I recall ran a ½ marathon or was training for one (sorry girl, can’t remember.)
I am so appreciative and thankful for their presence in my life. Of course because schedules are tough, we didn’t run together often, though both were always encouraging. Had it not been for Kelly I would have never signed up for my very first 5K – the Blue Point / Bayport Smiles Change Lives Turkey Trot in November of 2011 on Thanksgiving morning, close to almost 2 years from when I started running. I had no idea what I was doing, I don’t even think I had running sneakers, just plain old sneakers I probably picked up at Kmart or Target. When the race ended, I went home and bragged to everyone at Thanksgiving dinner that I, ME, this girl RAN a race. I completed it in 29:20, I had no idea if that was a good time, didn’t matter. I continue to run that race each year even though they now consider it a “Fun run” and they haven’t officially timed it since 2012 but my times on that course improved year 2012 29:07; 2013 28:52; 2014 25:15. That race, will always be special to me. It wasn’t until almost a full year later that I signed up for another 5K – it was the 2012 Diva 5K and then in 2013 the Judy Shesh run and once again the 2013 Diva 5K and 2013 Turkey Trot. Although I was running, I kept telling myself I really disliked it. It’s tough and seems to never get easier.

Last year was when I somewhat started to take the whole “running thing” a bit more serious. Not really knowing anyone who ran aside from Kelly and Cristina, I decided to sign up for the 2014 Summer Run Series (thanks again to Kelly’s suggestion) and my very first ½ marathon (more on that to come…). So, I signed up knowing Kelly was registered, but again, rarely saw her because by the time we showed up, race was starting. Since I knew NO ONE else registered, I would run the race, grab a snack and leave. It’s kinda sad high fiving yourself. I was committed to making every single race, and I did, I was very proud of myself for completing that series. Somewhere during that time frame, I met a women who we know as Nancy Walker Andersont my brother’s house during a party. My brother was excited to introduce me to her because she was a runner. I told him, “I’m not a runner I have no interest in speaking to anyone about running, I don’t even LIKE running, it’s just something I kinda do.”

Well, Nancy, who is the loveliest human ever, tried her hardest to engage me in running talk every time I’d see her and I was somewhat dismissive because I felt so inadequate, she was beautiful and fit and I knew that she ran a ½ marathon. That was an entire world I knew nothing about. After seeing her a few more times she’d say things like “we should run together” and I’d roll my eyes “I DO NOT RUN.” She also mentioned that I should run a race called Cow Harbor (as did Kelly). Not being a part of the run circuit I had no idea what that was. Wondering what the big deal was about this “cow” race, I signed up, knowing nothing about the race, the hill, the course, I went out and did it and on race day I hung out with myself (again, had no running friends) for what seemed like an eternity, crossed the finish line and felt like a rock star. My FIRST official 10K race (not counting the Summer Run series) I finished with a time of 58:00 and really had no point of reference as to if that was good. Since racing was not something I did on a regular basis, I was unaware of things like placing and age groups, my goal was to “finish.” That race so far, is my favorite.

About a week after the Cow Harbor run I got a text from Nancy, I can’t recall if I gave her my # or if she got it from my brother, that text was an invite to meet her for a group run with some people known as the Selden Hills Warriors. So, on October 12, 2014, a week after I finished my first ½ marathon, thinking I was way out of my league, and being completely unsure what to expect, I became a SHW with my first ever run with a time of 1:13:28 – I was hooked, and the very next day I invited myself along to run with Dara and KC and boy were they patient and kind as I slowed them down tremendously. I was in awe of Dara, she made that run look so easy, and I was huffing and puffing. Both of them were absolutely kind and encouraging. Still wanting more of a hills fix, 2 days after that I put up a post asking if anyone was willing to run with a “newbie” , one person responded and through that post I met a man who I lovingly now call my “Running Husband” Michael Oliveri and he Nancy and I became a trio running the hills sometimes 3 times within the week, and the rest of the history is still being written… more on Monday…Have a GREAT day today at that “COW” race WARRIORS! I’ll see you at the starting line! heart emoticon

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