We had the good fortune of connecting with Nico Marcolongo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nico, what matters most to you?
As a former Marine Officer and now leader of a nationwide program that supports injured veterans and first responders, making effective decisions is critical to my organization’s success. The more authority one has, the more consequential one’s decisions are on the lives of others. Therefore, knowing those whom we serve by understanding their unique circumstances, backgrounds and goals is important when providing them the resources necessary to improve their wellbeing. To do this, it’s important to communicate effectively. Successful communication is the key to any successful relationship and a level of humility is required in order to be open to what another is expressing. Humility mitigates prejudice and facilitates better decision making. Humility is not a natural human trait; it must be practiced. I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind for without humility we will lack empathy and without empathy, we lose our humanity.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
In 2003, I got involved with CAF while I was in the Marine Corps. I established a fund there to support injured veterans and first responders and their disabled children. As it turned out, I had unwittingly created a future job for myself five years later. In 2008, when I got out of the Marine Corps, CAF hired me to lead the Operation Rebound program that was established with the help of a buddy of mine Captain, now Colonel David Rozelle, U.S. Army to support Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. With CAF board approval, I was able to integrate the fund I started into Operation Rebound to help veterans of all eras as well as first responders (by the time I was hired by CAF, most all kids were being fully supported by CAF through other funding). Since 2008, CAF Operation Rebound has provided year-round support to all who have protected our freedom, from military veterans of all eras to first responders who risk their lives daily to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods. CAF Operation Rebound is the only program that provides direct support to disabled veterans and first responders across a spectrum of sports and recreational activities that allows them to participate, train and compete at the time and place of their own choosing. This is significant as the ethos of the program is to promote independence among our veterans and first responders while at the same time letting them know that they are part of a team. The Operation Rebound motto is “Frontline to Finish Line” and that’s exactly what we are doing, getting our injured troops and first responders active again, oftentimes soon after injury. Whether its riding bikes with their kids or winning a medal at an international competition, CAF Operation Rebound empowers our injured veterans and first responders to excel in life through sports. When one is empowered, they are less dependent and can better realize their potential. That’s what Operation Rebound is all about, empowering the individual. Helping people realize their own potential to succeed requires a lot of listening and an understanding of the unique nature of each person’s injuries. We see their resilience, often developed and honed by their military or first responder training, as a key factor in motivating them to face their injury as a challenge to overcome instead of a life-limiting disability. The challenge is to ensure that we empower people vice enable them. We invest in people so that may flourish. We are a charity, not an entitlement program. Personal accountability is key to the program’s success. At times, it can be a challenge for one to realize that they have value, particularly after they are injured and are taken away from their unit or team and find themselves in a situation where they are dependent upon another’s assistance to do basic things that they once took for granted. This can be extremely debilitating and if not handled properly, can lead to a “broken” mentality where one views themselves through a lens of what they cannot do vice what they are capable of doing. CAF Operation Rebound lets our injured veterans and first responders know that they can do all the things they used to do and things they never dreamed of doing, they just may need to adapt. We emphasize that they will get better if they want to get better. Those that take this to heart do well with the support that they receive from the program. Though they often find themselves competing independently, they realize that they have the backing of a team, just as they did in the military or serving as a firefighter, police officer or paramedic. Knowing someone supports them and that they are a valuable part of the team and therefore are in turn supporting and inspiring others through their actions, builds confidence and is further empowering. The material support they receive from CAF Operation Rebound is a force multiplier through which the program acts as a catalyst for positive change in the lives of our injured veterans and first responders.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Philly. We’d stay with my aunt who’d feed us Italian meatballs and homemade cheesecake. Hit South St. and visit the Liberty Bell Center, the birthplace of our freedom and of course run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Yo Roc! We’d get hoagies at Pat’s or Geno’s, whichever we happened to be closest to at the time. I like mine “whiz wit”. Go Eggles (yes Egg- els), 6ers, Broad Street Bullies and Fightin’ Phils!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to Jack Lyon and Bill Rider, two Vietnam Combat Veteran Marines who were pivotal to my transition when I returned home from Iraq. A shoutout to the Surf Tribe, particularly Betty Michalewicz, with whom I co-founded a weekly surf clinic for our servicemembers who are recovering from injury, and to the Del Mar Lifeguards for their support of the clinic these past 12 years. The Surf Clinic has been instrumental to the recovery of scores of our veterans facing the challenges of their service-connected injuries. Kudos to the U.S. Navy , particularly Naval Medical Center San Diego for recognizing the healing power of surf therapy and taking the lead to establish it as an official form of therapy for our injured troops. Looking forward to seeing everyone back on the beach post-COVID. Website: www.operationrebound.org Surf Clinic video: https://allhands.navy.mil/Stories/Display-Story/Article/1840477/surf-therapy/
Other: www.buddybowl.org www.acvow.org
Challenged Athletes Foundation