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What is Your Life for?

Ruben taking on the 2010 ING New York City Marathon in honor of his friend, Zack Weinstein.

Ruben taking on the 2010 ING New York City Marathon in honor of his friend, Zack Weinstein.

By: Janelle LoBello

Jesse Ruben's life changed dramatically in July 2005 when his best friend, Zack Weinstein, was spinal cord injured while he was a camp counselor in Maine.

Five years later, Ruben will be running in Weinstein's honor for Team Reeve in the 2010 ING New York City Marathon. Weinstein, who is living with a C6/C7 level injury, is now an actor, having appeared on the hit television shows, Glee and NCIS, and a Reeve Foundation Ambassador. (Read more about Zack Weinstein).

Song for Zack
"Right when he got hurt, they were waiting for the ambulance to come and someone asked, 'What's Jesse going to do when he finds out about this,'" jokes Ruben. "And Zack lying there said, 'I don't know, but he better write a really good song about it!'"

For four months, Ruben did nothing but write Song for Zack, which is on Ruben's first album Aiming for Honesty. "I played it for his family and they all had this big emotional moment." (Watch the video of Ruben performing Song for Zack).

"One of the most intense experiences of my entire life," says Ruben, "one of the most life-changing experiences of my entire life, was being in the hospital with him that first week."

With a budding music career, Ruben felt it was only natural to become involved with the Reeve Foundation somehow. "I asked my manager to share the song with the Foundation," explains Ruben. "And it was well received. There are so many causes, but for me as soon as it [Zack's injury] happened, it was a no brainer."

Ruben's reason for running this marathon comes down to one question that he has been pondering over the past couple of years. "What is your life for?" asks Ruben. "When I walk on stage it's not to look cool for the people I'm playing for, I'm here to help give people something they need. For me I just want to be involved as much as possible."

Ruben has reevaluated what he thinks is possible for the world and his life.

Ruben has reevaluated what he thinks is possible for the world and his life.

Who is this guy?
In April 2010, Ruben ran the last six miles of the Boston Marathon with a friend. "I was not a runner," jokes Ruben. "I didn't buy my shoes until the week before! I had nightmares the night before that I wouldn't be able to do it."

When Ruben returned to New York the next day, he decided to keep on running. "The next day I went on Twitter and said, 'If you need me, I'll be running,' And then somebody from the Reeve Foundation tweeted me back, 'Hey, you should run the New York City Marathon for us!'"

Ruben's first instinct was that there was no way he could run a marathon. But once he got on the phone with the Reeve Foundation, he was convinced.

"I remember pausing and thinking, 'Well, why not.' I was so quiet and terrified. After a few minutes and some more questions, I hung up the phone and literally went 'AHHH!' In that moment, saying yes, everything was now different."

"The answer was quick," says Ruben, "but in the second before I said yes I had a million thoughts. Every reason why I shouldn't went through my head. Terror, fear, doubt, all these things."

Since saying yes and training, Ruben has reevaluated what he thinks is possible for the world and his life.

"It's not a marathon, it's literally my whole life," says Ruben. "I'm a night person, I've always been. I was staying up until four, hanging out with people, or writing, then sleeping until noon. I couldn't do that anymore. People would call me at ten o'clock to go out and I'd be going to bed and they'd say, 'Who are you?! That's what I've been hearing so much, 'Who are you? Where did this person come from?"

Reality of the race
"It was hard to get through first couple of weeks," admits Ruben. "I was using muscles Inever used before, there was tons of stress on my joints, I couldn't breathe. For awhile my brain was screaming, 'Stop!'"

Even though his mind was telling him stop there is a simple motivation why he didn't.

"The only reason I keep going," says Ruben, "probably the only reason I'm going to cross finish line, is because if Zack Weinstein wants to run a marathon, he can't. He literally can't."

"If for no other reason that he can't," says Ruben, "I am going to cross that finish line on November 7th. I don't care what it takes, even if I have to crawl across that finish line."

Ruben is fully aware that this is more than just running a marathon. "This is what my life has been for the last five months. This is why I've been doing this for the last five months. This is not just running a race. This is not just a long distance in four, four-and-a-half hours. This is going from being mildly irresponsible, thinking mostly about myself most of time, all about me and my career, to focusing on doing something for other people for the first time in my life in a big way. This is not just a race."

Despite how incredible it's been, Ruben isn't sure of what's next. "I don't know what I'm going to do when it's over. I don't know what I'm going to talk about with people, I don't know what I'm going to do with my mornings. It's almost scary."

The ING NYC Marathon has given Ruben a sense of pride.

The ING NYC Marathon has given Ruben a sense of pride.

More motivation
"Saying yes to this marathon is like jumping off a cliff without a parachute and not knowing what is at the bottom," explains Ruben. "I literally didn't know what it was going to look like. And I still don't. It's just been the most awesome thing. I'm not the same person today that I was yesterday, that I was five months ago. I like who I was back then. But this guy is skinnier!"

Ruben is optimistic now but hasn't always been this way. "Life is short, run a marathon," says Ruben. "Life is short, raise $8,000. Have I always been like that? No. Am I like that all the time? No. I wish I was. If I was, I would've been a superhero!"

This marathon is more than just helping a friend. It has given Ruben a sense of pride.

"It's been really amazing to be part of something that's bigger than me," explains Ruben. "I'm going to look back on these six months and be really, really proud."

Seeing firsthand what his best friend has gone through, Ruben knows it changes everything. "Going from being able-bodied to not anymore, is literally the most difficult situation anyone can be put in," says Ruben. "Physically there is nothing more difficult to adjust to."

"I can't imagine how that is," says Ruben, "but I know from seeing it with my own eyes, that the work the Reeve Foundation does makes that transition a little easier. It's a pretty good reason to run 26.2 miles! If I can raise money for this cause, if I can generally make people more healthy and aware, and do something greater than myself, and cross that finish line, that seems like a pretty good way to spend time on this planet."

Nothing is impossible
"I just did a half marathon a few weeks ago in order to get used to the marathon setting," explains Ruben, "and I loved it. It was one of the most fun, exhilarating, beautiful experiences I've ever been apart of. Training for a marathon, even with other people, is a very independent experience. So to see so many people doing it too, is just awesome."

Running the marathon reminds Ruben of his mantra, "What is your life for?"

"I haven't cried since Zack's accident," says Ruben. "And when I crossed the half marathon finish line, I completely broke down. It just reminded me I'm accomplishing something. I'm actually accomplishing something that I never thought was possible. If you told me I was going to run a marathon, I would've laughed in your face!"

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders