It would be hard to imagine a more spectacular Sunday morning for the Jets organization. Teaming up with the Alliance for Lupus Research for the seventh annual Northern New Jersey Walk With Us to Cure Lupus, the Jets had 1,200 people participate in the 5K (3.1-mile) stroll, which began and ended at their new home — the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
Under a sun-soaked sky, the 2009 Jets rookie class and a few veterans were out early to mingle with folks on the FieldTurf from 9-10 a.m. As one might expect, the lines were longest for rookie passer Mark Sanchez.
"You get to meet the fans, have fun with them and see what they're like," said rookie RB Shonn Greene, an Iowa product whom the Jets selected in the third round. "It's the fans of our community and I think they deserve the opportunity to meet and greet with us."
Jets chairman and CEO Woody Johnson has spearheaded his team's involvement in lupus. After one of his three daughters was diagnosed with the chronic inflammatory disease, Johnson said he would find a cure.
"His ties are strong and obviously his daughter has the condition of lupus and he started this organization and the players understand that," said Dave Szott, the Jets' director of player development. "We had them here yesterday with the kids clinic and then today with the lupus walk. Next weekend, they have another lupus walk [on Long Island], so those are some weekends where they are involved with the organization and specifically lupus research.
"They understand that and it's great they can be a draw and participate in any way."
Head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum served as co-chairs today and the Jets had a strong organizational turnout across departments. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was among a number of coaches pushing the stroller as he and his wife, Gemmi, brought their son, Sutton, and daughter, Savannah, to the walk.
"We love living here, we love the community," Schottenheimer said. "The community has done so much for us, making us feel at home. The fact that it's for a good cause like lupus and the fact that it's important for Mr. Johnson is great.
"I understand how things like this make a difference. I was fortunate enough to get through thyroid cancer and things like this really mean a lot to us. It's a great chance for us to spend some time here with the family — both with my family and getting a chance to know these players away from football and letting them see our kids and socializing with the coaches."
Even before anyone took a step, the ALR had raised $215,000 through donations and they hoped to gain another $65,000 in donations today.
"It's very critical," said Karen Bacharach, who serves as the alliance's national walk manager. "Because of Mr. Johnson within the past few years, since we began the walk in 2002, we've raised $12 million just from the walk program to help support and fund scientific research to try to find a cure for lupus."
"The name of lupus is getting out there because of this and because of him and because of the Jets putting it out there in front of people and bringing an activity like this one today, which is so fabulous. The whole community comes out and honestly I think a lot of people just love to see the new facility. It's a fabulous facility and we're real excited to be here."
Bacharach said some of the walkers were so excited and nervous to be at the facility that they wanted to make sure it was OK to walk on the practice turf. Registration was held in the business parking lot and then people moved onto the field, where Jets Fest was in full swing, before Tannenbaum, Ryan and Sanchez delivered prewalk messages to the crowd. The most striking feature of the event is the team T-shirts, showcasing just how many people are affected by lupus.
"Everyone does have their own story," Bacharach said. "Everyone lives with lupus in one way or another — either their friend, a member of their family or they themselves have the disease. We encourage the families to create family-themed T-shirts because it builds camaraderie among their own group of family and friends. When we take off here in the next few minutes, you'll see a sea of T-shirts, which is really fabulous."
Before everyone hit the course, Sanchez led the walkers in a J-E-T-S chant and then they pounded the pavement. Today another step was taken on the road to finding a cure.