WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Keri Mandell, West Windsor. To help meet her $150,000 donation goal for the American Cancer Society DetermiNation Endurance Series, Mandell, who works for the South Brunswick Public School District in her spare time, joined 41 other athletes in running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Need we say more?
MEN OF THE YEAR: John Poznanski and Chase Falcone. 8-year-old Chase’s mother read him an article about Colonia High School wrestler John because along with sharing an interest in sports, they both have Coat’s Disease, a pediatric eye condition shared by 1 in 250,000. Shortly after Chase, a native of Verona, won his first wrestling match, they got to meet at one of John’s high school wrestling meets. Chase and John also share an interest in wrestling for Rutgers University.
HONORARY JERSEY GAL HONORS: Emily Pierskalla of the Minnesota Nurses Association for laying it on the line about fighting a pandemic with a healthcare system that “prioritizes profits over health…(T)he fragility of our supply chain has been exposed time and time again…I have accepted that I will be infected with COVID-19 at some point…But If I die…don’t say that heaven has gained an angel. Say that negligence and greed has murdered a person…”
HONORARY JERSEY GUY HONORS: John “Turbo” Shatesky, Brooklyn NYC. Turbo runs Bullspike Radio, Rock Against Dystrophy and a hard rock music news site — all from a wheelchair because he has muscular dystrophy. Having had to “live one day at a time since birth” and “stay home when health is more important than being seen,” he’s eminently qualified to advise the rest of us on how to social distance without going stir crazy or getting politically exploited.
LEAST WELCOME TREND: “Long-Hauler” Covid Patients. Along with the infected, the asymptomatic, and the deceased, there’s a group of Covid victims that have been overlooked: those who suffer from long-term effects once the virus has departed. Andréa Ceresa of Branchburg has spoken out about enduring everything from severe diarrhea to numb limbs to blurry vision to hearing loss to the possibility of losing her health insurance — but is anybody listening?
MOST WELCOME TREND: Saliva-Based Covid Testing. It’s painless. It’s not invasive. It’s relatively inexpensive. It can be mass produced quickly. It doesn’t need to be given by health care workers, freeing them for more “essential” tasks. It was invented in New Jersey. And most important, saliva-based Covid tests have now been shown to be as least as accurate as the mucus-based ones.
COUPLE OF THE YEAR: Tony “Under My Skin Tattoo” Rodriguez and Dr. Cavin “KidzDent” Brundsen. “Professional tattooing has a better record of preventing pathogen transmission than professional dentistry,” wrote “Tattoo” Tony. But instead of getting ready to rumble, he and Dr. KidzDent found themselves as unexpected allies when they posted videos illustrating the Covid prevention measures they’d taken once the restrictions for personal service businesses were lifted far enough for them to reopen.
DISS-HONORABLE MENTION: The latest in potentially fatal social media “challenges.” The Skull Breaker Challenge involves three people in a row who jump — except that two people on the outside actually try to kick the legs out from under the middle person. The Outlet/Penny Challenge involves inserting a phone charger part into an outlet, then touching a coin to the prongs. And just this week, a warning was posted about eating icicles hanging from a roof. Need we say more?
HONORABLE MENTION: Autism is not a “kid’s disease” — you don’t outgrow it like acne. That’s why we salute these productive autistic adults: Eddie Lin of Edison was diagnosed with at age four and started creating balloon art when he was 10. Twelve years later, he’s founded a part-time business, Ausome Balloon Creator, devoting special attention to New Jersey’s frontline Covid workers. And Christopher “C.J.” Zweig of Tinton Falls did not allow his autism to prevent him from reviewing movies online — now he’s being paid to do it for Internet radio station NEWHD Radio, which hires those with special needs.