On a warm, blue-skied morning, more than one thousand Jets fans and members of the Northern New Jersey community packed the turf at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center to take part in an event near and dear to the Jets organization. For the eighth consecutive year, the New York Jets partnered with the Alliance for Lupus Research to hold their North Jersey Walk With Us to Cure Lupus.
Jets owner Woody Johnson started the ALR in 1999 to combat lupus, an autoimmune disease that can affect not only the skin but the body's vital organs.
Ken Farber, the ALR's executive director who could be seen mingling with the Jets players, coaching staff and fans, was excited about the turnout of 1,292
"The Alliance for Lupus Research is just thrilled to have the New York Jets as a partner," Farber said. "ALR and the Jets work hand in hand and we have a phenomenal turnout for the walk for lupus research today."
Farber expected the ALR to raise close to $300,000 today, with all of that money going to the best lupus research in the country. Over the past eight years, the Jets and ALR have raised nearly $3 million toward finding a cure for lupus.
Also in attendance at the walk were many Jets players, coaches and staff, including head coach Rex Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and veteran players David Harris and Brodney Pool. In addition, the Jets rookie class, led by first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson, seemed to be immersing themselves in the event.
Tannenbaum expressed his pleasure with being able to give back to the community, while Ryan showed enthusiasm for the event and the cause.
"It's huge," the coach said. "One thing about the entire Jets organization is that we're committed to finding a cure for lupus. Hopefully this walk will go a long way in helping out."
The rookies and players were some of the first out of the gates to begin the walk, and led the way while engaging with many different groups of supporters. One rookie who seemed to be particularly enjoying his interactions with the community was rookie fullback John Conner. In between giving autographs to fans and discussing the event with his teammates, Conner took the time to discuss his feelings about the day.
"It's good to see everybody out here, and it's for a good cause," he said. "To see all the fans out here, it's good to get a chance to mingle. It feels good, just looking at the fan base and all the support we have out here."
Wilson, Harris and Pool were the biggest attractions among the fans, and it was special to see those three so involved, excited and enthusiastic about spending time with and giving back to the community.
As a Piscataway, N.J., native, Wilson knows the area and the community well, and he looks to be fully committed to maintaining a relationship with the fans through events like the ALR walk in the future. In particular, this event allows him to showcase his care for the community while also making an impact on a charity that the Jets and Johnson hold in very high regard.
"Anything I can do to help out in the community, I'm always willing to do it," Wilson said. "Finding a cure for lupus and helping Mr. Johnson out is something great. Anytime we can help at walks like this and come out and show support, we're all for it."
Also participating in the event were Jets rookies Vladimir Ducasse, Donovan Warren, Cory Reamer, Brashton Satele, Kevin Basped, Charlie Tanner, Aaron Kia, Simi Toeaina, Jeff Cumberland, Jason Lamb, Brian Jackson and Ernest Williams.
Many different groups joined in on today's walk, most of which had ties to a friend or family member who suffers or suffered from the disease. One group is The Kelly Fund for Lupus. Brenda Blackmon started the organization when her daughter was diagnosed with lupus, from which she has since recovered.
"Woody Johnson has been the inspiration," Blackmon said. "He is just phenomenal — his commitment, how much he has put the word out and helped people understand this is a disease that has so many ramifications that we don't understand."
Farber has worked with Johnson during ALR's existence and has extremely high hopes and expectations for the Jets owner's two biggest goals this year.
"Woody is committed to two things, he wants two achievements this year. He wants a Super Bowl win for the Jets and he wants a cure for lupus," Farber said. "Those are his ambitions, those are our ambitions. Working together, I'm pretty confident we'll achieve them."