What Doing a 24hr Relay for Life Event With My CEO Taught Me

by Neil Thomas 

In Loving Memory of Brian Rozelle Team #RozelleStrong.bringbackfit.com

Long Live #RozelleStrong

I nearly forgot that I agreed to do this Relay For Life event. I told Juan Antonio (JA) I’d join him for a lap or two, or at least bring by a picture of Brian Rozelle so he could be at an event I know he would of supported.

As most of us in serious relationships know, our generation has gravitated to a new style of dating where we have our set “date” nights. My night before the relay was a doozie.

Instead of just having a glass of wine and an appetizer as planned, my girlfriend and I had a wonderful dinner at a stellar, upscale cafe. I was amazed my girlfriend knew so much about wine and suggested pairings to the bartender. I should have known then I was in for a long night.

The next morning, we did one of our favorite things – BRUNCH! Or as she likes to say, “Mimosas with a side of mimosas.” I was finishing my crabcakes benedict when JA called to ask when I would be there and if I could pick up some food supplies on my way over.


HOLY CRAP. I’m supposed to be there. AND IT’S A 24-HOUR RELAY EVENT.

I get to the event wearing jeans and flip flops. I see JA being Superman – literally. He was running around in a tight blue shirt, had on these Superman socks and created his own “push-ups station,” where members of the Menlo Park Police Department were thrilled to join him. THIS IS GOING TO BE A LONG DAY.

To Quit vs. To Begin Again

Turns out I had no gym shorts in the car like I thought I did. So I did what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do, I rolled up my jeans to make some shorts and cranked up some Taylor Swift.

It wasn’t the prettiest sight, but it got the job done. Thank god I did have some old Nike free runners in my car and a fresh pair of socks. Otherwise, I would have done two laps and gone home.

There were some legit runners out there. This one girl, Little CIA, gave JA a run for his money. Every time I looked up, she was going strong with JA struggling to keep up with her. Sure, she was fresh and actually had a relay team, but I was more impressed JA was trying to keep up with her – she was the cross country team captain!

Then there was Nat Natalie, another strong runner than kept JA company. Turns out he forgot his ipod shuffle and was freaking out, but having cool people around to talk kept him sane. Thank you Nat Natalie and Little CIA for keeping my friend company.

Here’s what I guarantee you about the relay: no one else had a “pre-workout” full of mimosas like I did. I love mimosas, but I was paying the price. All I could do was push through my buzz.


I don’t know how JA was out there for so long because is was hot – DAMN HOT. I was sweating so much I felt embarrassed for the people around me. But that feeling quickly went away as people started recognizing us. We were those “crazy friendly guys” running around.

The most popular booths – aside from the taco truck – were the bead and luminaire booths. After completing a lap, you earned a bead. It was a cool, almost abacus like system of keeping track of how many laps you’d done. It came through when JA’s Garmin GSP watch ran out of juice after 7 hours. And we got to go home with a self-made necklaces to remember a day of courage!

For Sue - 180 beads for 180 laps.bringbackfit.com

For Sue & Pa Rozelle.

At the luminair boothe, you could write a personal message to either cancer survivors or to those that passed away to cancer. When I walked up to make one, I was asked, “Who are you here for?” The primary reason we came was to honor our friend Brian Rozelle and represent Team #RozelleStrong.

Then it hit me: my girlfriend had a brain tumor removed at 18 years old; my sister was diagnosed with melanoma at 22 years old; my girlfriend’s mother is still recovering from breast cancer; and my grandmother is also a cancer survivor. I was here for a lot more people than I initially realized.

For Emily.bringbackfit.com

After five hours however, I felt like I was going to die. (Side note – I broke my toe a couple days before dropping a huge machine on it at work.) My foot was killing me, I felt like I was overheating due to these jeans and all this sun made me want to take a long nap. I had enough for one day.

Driving home, I felt like a quitter. Those five hours may have seemed like forever, but they were only five hours. I also felt bad for leaving JA. He was really going to be a one person relay team – something I didn’t want for him.

Instead of going home, I pull into Equinox, Palo Alto. I did some bench press (I figured the heavy weights would give me a rush of adrenaline), showered, did a long steam, stretched, foam rolled and ate.

When I saw a clip of Robin Williams on one of the TV’s, I remembered his classic one liner, “You’re only given one little spark of madness.” Almost instantly, I was rushing home to grab some fresh clothes and bring JA some Chipotle.

I got the clothes, but zoomed passed Chipotle. I blame JA because on the drive back, all I could think about was what he told me the trick to 24hr races was: “Just find a way to keep your body moving.”

That little hoe is right. For anyone who does marathons or super-endurance events, if and when you stop moving your body, you’re fucked. Trust me. Don’t pull a rookie mistake like I did.

Proud To Fight Against Cancer


At eight o’clock, Relay For Life had what JA called, “The toughest part of the day.” It was the luminaria ceremony. Here, every single luminaire was lit up all around the course – every, single, one. We all walked the track once with bagpipes playing and then a second lap in silence. Everyone was holding a glow stick representing us carrying their life torch on.

Walking that first lap, I couldn’t help the tears rolling down my face. I don’t think there was a dry eye walking. I thought of my sweet little sister Emily being told at Cedars Sinai that she had cancer. I thought of my girlfriend and Brian both being told the same thing at Stanford. I thought of how many people have been told those dreadful words, ”You have cancer.”


JA told me he cried the first lap too, but oddly enough, was super angry during the second lap. He didn’t go into specifics, but by the time we connected a few laps later, he was back to his normal self.

He runs up to me and says, “You know what Brian once told me? He goes, ‘Dude, that girl you like so much is just a regular white girl!’ That may or may not be true depending on who you ask, but it’s still funny. I loved how ridiculous he was.”

I guess he just had to run with his anger to get it out of him. But just like that, his smile came back. 


If you know anything about me, you know I’ll talk to anyone and everyone in the room. We instantly became BFF’s with this super cool woman Carolina. She was running the booth for the Menlo Park PD.

She recently lost her husband to cancer. Despite that loss, she was amazingly upbeat, funny and kind. She single handedly convinced me to stay overnight to truly support the cause.

JA offered me one of his one liners for comfort, “Remember why you showed up.” It took a while for it to sink in, but I got it. If all these cancer survivors, friends and families feeling such pain from losing loved ones can keep going on, why can’t I? Me chuggling along forward is a physical metaphor for their journey. Deep stuff.  

No matter how you slice it, Carolina is such a strong woman. I have so much respect for her. Even more amazing? She has three incredible tweens that are just as funny and upbeat!

I know because sometime around 1AM, my body checked out. I wanted to keep walking, but Carolina’s girls offered me some shrimp pizza. I stopped to eat and chat with them and by slice number two, the girls were trying to braid my hair, we were playing the dare game and were talking about all these ridiculous celebrities. We created our own Comedy Central in the middle of the night.

By 4AM there were about four of us left out there still moving –  JA, myself, Carolina and the commander of the Menlo Park PD. There was this incredible sense of peace walking the track with all the candles lit.

“You wanna hear something crazy broseff?,” JA asked me. “We’re losing this fight. But events like this and people like this give me hope that we could win. If we save one person, it makes all the difference. We just have to save one person.”

That little hoe made me tear up. I’ll admit it. I needed that one liner out – nothing would stop me from making it to the end. Not my toe, not exhaustion, not the cold and not my mind wanting me to go back to sleep.  

We had the smallest team – two people. TWO. Just JA and I. We were officially representing JA’s friend Yuhui of SBA Fitness in Menlo Park. To my shock, when the laps were tallied up, we accumulated the most team miles!!! We completed over 65 miles between the two of us.

JA also won the most spirited award for giving everyone inspiration with his undeniable spirit. Having known him almost a year now – although it seems like forever – I can honestly say, I’ve never met anyone with so much drive and determination. And this little hoe doesn’t even sleep ladies and gentlemen! I’m damn proud to call him my business partner and one of my best friends on earth.

I never dreamed we would win the relay event, but I’m damn proud we gave it our all and actually did. We made all those people afflicted by cancer proud.

We convinced Neil to stay more than his planned 2hrs!

Willing To Work

Would I do another Relay For Life event again? Hell yeah! If its for a good cause – sign me up for one tomorrow!  I don’t care if I’m not prepared, wearing a business suit or have a broken toe, I will give it all I have.

For me, another JA one liner was one of the highlights of my day. When he said, “You know Neil, you were supposed to do two laps and you ended up staying for 18 hours. You are most impressive.”, I felt like a superhero. This guy was the hardest working guy on the track and he thinks I’m impressive? Who wouldn’t feel inspired to take on the world!?


homer circles

Anybody can run if your mind is right.

I don’t have a traditional “runners body,” but when I set my mind to something, I will get it. I’m not someone accustomed to not getting what they want and I WILL NEVER GIVE UP until I reach the goal. As one of my hero’s Gary Vee loves to say, “You have to be willing to work harder than anyone else! WORK!” I can learn to work my ass off just like him and JA.

I’ve decided that no matter how busy my life becomes, giving back is something you must find the time to do. Whether you’re poor, rich, somewhere in the middle or struggling to even stand on your own two feet, if you can’t extend your hand to another human being, what’s the point of being here?

Life is just a series of experiences and this turned into an incredible one. The range of emotions I felt were unbelievable. I never would of had the opportunity to have all these great conversations and meet so many great people without this event. We all had a cancer story connection, but I think we shared a biggers sense of compassion and trying to give back to families and the community. All these connections made while going round and round around the course.

With so much ugliness out in the world, here were a group of people who donated their entire Saturday to show that they cared. I gotta say, that’s fucking awesome.

“If you dream it you can do it” – Walt Disney

Neil Thomas
COO / “The Connector”

PS. One last funny thing about JA. Even he breaks. Around 11:50PM, he was trying to get me to convince him to go home (he was a bit out of it). Thankfully, a nice fellow, Kyle, showed up ready to make coffee for whoever wanted one.

As soon as he made JA a mocha, it was like that complaining part of him melted away. Caffeine + Taylor Swift brought him back to life.


JA’s friend Annah sent this to him late in the evening.

In the middle of the night, maybe a handful of people were still walking. What does JA do? He started running – FAST. It got to the point he was blazing passed us. “Clean” would be playing and he’d zoom past us three times for that one song. I timed him once and it took him about 1min 20sec to do a lap!

Eventually, Carolina yelled out, “Juan Antonio – you’re going too fast!” A few laps later, it dawned on him she was right. He slowed down and started to walk. When he looked at his watch, he was horrified. It read “12:35.”

That means the silly goose ran 5 miles at about a 7:00 minute per mile pace! Good if you’re just doing five miles, but stupid if you’re trying to run for 24hrs.

He paid the price on his next lap when his body started shutting down him. Maybe he should have been eating more food and less Ice cream? Luckily a two hour nap while listening to Taylor Swift was enough to bring him back to life.

I don’t know what Taylor Swift does to him, but it leads to incredible things. 

JA's more spirited when Taylor Swift or pizza are around

JA’s more spirited when Taylor Swift or pizza are around



Friends don’t let friends mindlessly “workout.” Friends help and support each other. Help your friends as they try to make positive changes in their life. If you know of anyone who may benefit from this content, please share it with them.

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