Ralph Marino, 55, of Waretown, is a quadriplegic, the result of an accident in which the former baseball catcher's neck was broken after a collision at home plate when he was 19.
Marino always wanted to be either a physical education teacher or a professional baseball player. Despite 35 days of intensive care, a year at a New York hospital and a diagnosis that he would be a quadriplegic for life, Marino did not quit.
Spending spent most of his hospital stay in the pediatric ward, Marino saw children dying around him, and he realized his condition "wasn't so bad as it could have been."
Upon his release, Marino returned to college, eventually majoring in psychology and concentrating on social work. That led to a 26-year career at North Bergen High School in Hudson County, where he also coached basketball.
Now retired, Marino started the motivational speaker program Above the Rim, through which he speaks to schools, companies and civic groups about his story.
"When I tell my story, I don't want people to be sad," said Marino. "I believe it's all about the size of your spirit. I want them to not take their lives for granted, like I once did. When I am done, I hope they have a better appreciation of life and that they are inspired to be better people. The objective is: life is good."For more information on Marino, visit www.abovetherimm.com.
Website helps fund wedding
Nicole Strain went from diving for volleyballs one night to learning she had a type of blood cancer the next morning.
The 26-year-old Hammonton resident has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is found more often and is highly treatable in children, but more complicated when it comes to adults.
Since learning of her illness, Strain has not let the bone marrow biopsies, spinal taps, chemotherapy and blood transfusions get her down.
Part of her optimism comes from the fact that a wedding lies at the end of her medical journey.
Strain and fiance Bill Spirit, 30, of Hammonton, were recently presented a $5,000 check to help fund their dream wedding, thanks to Wish Upon a Hero, a "social helping website" based in Voorhees Township, Camden County, that creates peer-to-peer connections for charitable giving.
Strain learned about Wish Upon a Hero from another person who had leukemia whom the organization helped. Faced with daunting medical bills, Strain and Spirit knew a dream wedding was unlikely. So Strain told her story on the website and made her wish. She was surprised when it came true. She was even more surprised when a wedding planner came forward to volunteer her services and possibly find other donations for the wedding, scheduled for Oct. 20, 2012.
"We are going to have the ceremony at our family farm, then hopefully a reception at a local winery," Strain said. "I want it to be rustic as possible. Sometimes it takes something like cancer to make you appreciate all of the little things you are given in life. It gives you a whole other outlook."
Everyone Has a Story appears Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. To share your story, call Scott Cronick at 609-272-7017 or e-mail him at: