Tony Lombardo of Barnegat has been pursuing a passion for most of his life — a passion of collecting people's stories, which he hopes to take to a new level with a blogging initiative for Patch.
Two years ago, Lombardo, 59, started an online nonprofit with a friend, Adaria Duarte of Parsipanny. The organization, Let's Hear Your Story, Inc., solicits and collects stories of triumph, resiliency and emotional strength from people facing hard times due to illness or other misfortune.
"By recognizing those who have overcome insurmountable obstacles, we hope to facilitate healing, positive change," is the organization's mission, according to the Let's Hear Your Story website.
Lombardo knows first-hand about overcoming great odds.
Lombardo's life started to change when he was a young college graduate, married, with two young children, working his first job in Manhattan as an export manager for a medium-size company. That was when he started experiencing strange symptoms.
"It started out in the summer of 1980," Lombardo said.
First, Lombardo started "walking funny." Then, his right eye became paralyzed.
It took multiple doctor visits and screenings over seven years to finally figure out what was wrong. In 1987, Lombardo was diagnosed with MS, or chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, at the age of 35.
"At least at that point I knew exactly what I was facing," Lombardo said. "It was better than the unknown."
Lombardo lost complete use of his leg and arm but learned to get around in his wheelchair and picked up lessons in resilience and positive attitude from his own family, and from other people he had met over the last 30 years.
"My mother taught me a lot about courage," Lombardo said. "She faced breast cancer down. She refused to give in."
Also, Lombardo said he learned from a man he had met in physical therapy in New York City, a Vietnam veteran who did two tours of duty — got captured for 20 days during the first one and got shot in the knee during the second one.
"He was told he could never walk again," Lombardo said. "When I've met him, he was a mail carrier, and he had changed my life."
Today, happily married after 36 years, a father of three and grandfather of two, Lombardo he keeps on chasing stories, because every story has a lesson he and others can learn, he said. "It's a constant learning process from the others next to you."
When Lombardo contacted Patch about helping him spread the word, we were glad to be of help. Lombardo said he aims to solicit, then edit inspiring stories from people from the local community and beyond, then post them on our site in short blogging installments on a regular basis.
Lombardo said the stories can come from people who feel they have defeated their biggest challenges, as well as from those who are still in the midst of their battles.
"Everyone is a survivor," he said. "Everyone has a survivor's instinct. How you pull that out of your heart and soul is up to you."
Email your stories to Tony Lombardo at: email@example.com for more information.
The stories can be tales of economic, health or emotional woes you have faced or are still now learning to overcome. They can be accounts of chasing dreams and achieving goals.
Let's hear your story!