June 03, 2018

Day 3: A Person That Changed My Life

When I was choosing from my list of 30 days of blog topics, this particular topic jumped out at me because it's very relevant right now.

I recently learned that a former teacher of mine, Dave Sontag, has leukemia. Coincidentally, just after I started this post, I learned that today is National Cancer Survivor Day. This is fitting, because Mr. Sontag has battled cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) once before--and won. He's a cancer survivor, and he was in remission for longer than I've known him.

I was grocery shopping last week when Jerry called me and told me the news. I was devastated. It wasn't the first time I've cried in the grocery store, and I'm sure it won't be the last; the news just crushed me.

I know that people have their favorite teachers over the years, and teachers who have influenced their lives; but the enormity of how Mr. Sontag influenced my life cannot even be described with words.

If not for Mr. Sontag, I would not have met Jerry. And therefore, wouldn't have Noah and Eli. I also would not be a blogger. And if I hadn't started my blog, it wouldn't have caused a huge chain of life-altering events: being on The Dr. Oz Show, forming a Ragnar Relay team that would then be featured in a documentary, appearing in Runner's World magazine, Woman's World magazine, being interviewed for numerous podcasts and news channels.

I simply wouldn't be the same person. Who knows what my life would be like?

I met Mr. Sontag when I took his journalism class as an elective in high school. The class was very small and intimate (there were about eight of us, I think) and we were in charge of creating, printing, and distributing the school newspaper. I had always loved creative writing, but journalism was a whole new ballgame for me.

(To say I was desperate for a photo for this post is an understatement, clearly. I have no idea what I was writing in this pic. But the shirt I was wearing was a gift from Andy, one of the guys in Sontag's class. He used our newspaper editing software to create the shirt and print it for a Secret Santa game in class!)

I can say, without a doubt, that Mr. Sontag's journalism class was the class I learned more from than any other class I've taken--from elementary school through college. In fact, I can hear his voice in my head every time I write a blog post. When I chose the title of my blog, Runs for Cookies, I thought of the guidelines we used for impactful headlines when writing newspaper articles.

Mr. Sontag (or "Tag" as we called him in class) gave us the freedom we needed to be our creative selves, but the structure we needed to become better writers. He never let us half-ass our work, so we learned to do our best the first time around. And he always called us out on something if he thought we half-assed it, which I appreciate so much.

One story idea that I had in class involved my driving around the county to other high schools and interviewing students. At one of the schools, I interviewed a guy with a sort of "alternative" look, and he was really funny. He also had very neat handwriting. After my partner and I left, I told her in the car that I thought he was cute.

Yes, I later learned that his name was Jerry. We are now married with two kids ;)  (Thank you, Tag, for letting me write that story, even though you didn't quite understand what I was going for, hahaha.)

When I was as young as seven years old, I remember wanting to be a writer when I grew up. I was always good at creative writing. Unfortunately, the teachers I had always told me that I needed a "back-up plan" because earning money as a writer was unrealistic. So, I gave up on that dream early on in middle school.

Even after taking journalism during my junior and senior years, I never really had it in my mind that I would be a writer. It wasn't until after I started blogging, and then earning money by blogging, that I realized I actually am a writer (in the sense that I'd always wanted to be).

The things I learned in Mr. Sontag's class are countless, but I know that his little tips and rules pop into my head each and every time I write a blog post. It sounds dramatic, but I don't think that I would be a blogger today if not for taking Tag's class.

Blogging has its own set of rules, and I choose for my blog to be very informal (rather than writing as if I was writing a book, with no audience). Because journalism is meant for an audience, the structure is different--much like blogging. It was in his class that I learned to write (in my own voice) for an audience.

It's kind of funny--I honestly don't know if Tag would remember who I am. I wasn't a very memorable person, and he's taught hundreds of students and athletes (he is an amazing baseball coach as well as teacher). But I like to think that if he influenced even just a few of them the way he did me, the impact that he created is immeasurable.

I love that it happens to be National Cancer Survivors Day as I write this. Tag will beat this cancer, just like he kicked non-Hodgkin lymphoma's ass years ago!



  1. Lovely post and I always love your writing style.

  2. As a teacher, I encourage you to send him this blog post. You'd be surprised how many students we remember. We also want to know IF we've had an impact on any of them. Reading this would would be really meaningful for him.

    BTW, YOU changed my life. Thank you for blogging, sharing your journey, and sharing the book Brain Over Binge as it changed my life. I've lost over 110 lbs since 7/31/17. I've picked up running again and I'm training for a half marathon. My life is drastically different because of you. THANK YOU.

  3. This is a great story! And you really are an excellent writer! I really hope he can overcome his diagnosis as well. I'm loving these topics you're doing this month! They're great!

  4. This is a great post. Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a music teacher and has taught over 100 kids/year for 20 years now about why she attends the graduation ceremony at the high school every year. She said that she remembers almost EVERY kid, and some of them she hasn't seen since they were in 3rd grade! She loves when kids recognize her and certainly get s thrill when they say she was a favorite. All of that is to say, that I echo what someone else wrote above that you should definitely find a way to send this post on to him and let him know the impact that he has made on your life! I recently found out that my high school drama director passed away and only then did I realize what a real impact he had on my life and the person who I am, even 20-some years after graduating.

  5. One of the nicest things I think you could do for him is print off this blog and send it to him in a card. Thanks for sharing


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