One thing we know for sure is that life is precious – and fragile. When someone close to you becomes sick, or dies, an enormous opportunity opens up for understanding what’s really important.
My brother Joe was much older than me, so we weren’t very close for much of my life. But his final illness and passing proved to have an indelible impact on my thinking and approach to living.
Soon after he died, my sister Diana submitted the story of Joe’s challenges to the Muscular Dystrophy Association website, as a memorial to his tremendous character and courage. The page has since been taken down, but I kept a screenshot of it and was able to retrieve most of the information.
I want to share this story with you because I’m blown away by the power and beauty of this man’s life. Joe’s determination and bravery were early signals to me that life absolutely is what we make it.
Here’s an abridged version of the story my sister wrote.
A Short Biography
Joseph M. Wozniak, age 71, passed away peacefully on Thursday, September 12, 2019, under hospice care in Scottsdale, AZ.
Joe graduated from University of Detroit in Chemical Engineering and Business, then moved to Phoenix in 1976 and earned a Master Degree in International Management. At Honeywell, he worked in engineering, then international marketing, and then he became the manager of software support in the Technical Assistance Center at Honeywell's Industrial Automation Systems Division (IASD). His team solved problems for customers from around the world. He received a patent for his work on displays for controls systems at chemical manufacturing plants.
At the age of 35, Joe was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) called Facio-Scapular-Humeral (FSH). It affects the face, back, arm, and leg muscles. After several setbacks and injuries, Joe dedicated his life to researching how exercise and nutrition affect the body and MD.
A year after his diagnosis, his doctors told Joe he "was going downhill fast." They told him to stop exercising because it would just hasten the deterioration of his muscles.
Nonetheless, within the next few years, Joe competed in 13 triathlons, completing 11 of them. He also finished the Honolulu marathon.
After a skiing accident requiring seven weeks of using crutches, Joe lost most muscle tone. But while his left leg was much weaker, his arms got stronger from using the crutches. That was his first clue that exercise might actually help, despite what the doctors said.
It was then that he decided to fight the disease with running, cycling, and weightlifting. Through exercise supervised by Dr. Art Mollen, he became strong enough to return to his job at Honeywell. Joe's goal was to show everyone with MDA that there is hope and improvement with exercise.
Joe worked with several doctors to document his journey so others may benefit. He was featured on two television episodes of Arizona Then and Now. An MDA telethon included an interview with him. And he was featured in Runner's World magazine (Feb 1987).
A Favorite Family Story
Here’s a family story I’ll never forget; for many years Joe would come to Wheeling, WV, to complete the Elby's 20K race. Every year, he would invite each of the family members to join him, and we would smile and decline. We were not runners!
Then, when we went to cheer him on one year, to our astonishment he was the last participant to finish, and barely walking. The van to help any injured runners trailed patiently behind him.
That is the moment we understood how hard Joe worked to participate. He often had to start running hours earlier than the official beginning of the races so that he could complete the run while the finish line was still up. He got to know all the race organizers and earned their support. His relentless determination inspired so many!
One year he asked us again to participate at the Elby's 20K. We had to acknowledge that if Joe could do this, then we needed to give it a try. He calculated the pace for each of us and set a staggered start time so that we would meet up at a designated point. We surprised Joe with t-shirts that year. The fronts all said "Here comes" and the backs showed how each of us was related to Joe.
He was an inspiration to family and strangers alike, and that year the crowd cheered wildly for him throughout the entire race.
Life as Legacy
Joe started his Measured Nutrition business in 2007, dedicating his energy to helping many people regain their health. He was passionate about using his science and engineering background to help even those who had tried many other remedies without success. Observing the progress others made was soul nutrition for him.
After his death, this story on the MDA website helped to raise funds. Every day, children are born with muscular dystrophy and adults are diagnosed with ALS and other life-threatening diseases that take away their most basic freedoms - like walking, talking, eating, hugging, and ultimately life itself. MDA works to give these abilities back through early intervention, local engagement, and the search for better treatments and cures.
I believe the world is full of heroes like Joe, whose amazing bravery shows us how to turn adversity inside out so that we grow, serve ourselves and others, and even prosper from the effort. In attempting to discover our Why, we’re likely to encounter challenges we might prefer to avoid. But Joe showed me that by working through fears and difficulties we can attain enormous meaning and satisfaction.
Who has served as an inspiration for your understanding of what life’s all about? How have you been deeply touched by the actions of another person? Tell us your story in the comments!