Designing A Co-Op Project: The Operation IMPACT Tour
The Story of Operation IMPACT
The story of how Operation IMPACT came to be started with my photobook project, “The Faces of Illness” and a conversation with Mark Rodriguez, the only two-time double lung transplant stonemason that I finally met in Scottsdale, Arizona in June of 2023. I came across his story through a virtual meet and greet for attendees of a conference that we were both registered for in a state that neither of us lived in. I asked Mark if he would be interested in appearing in “The Faces of Illness: Volume II: Making Every Minute Count,” a photobook and documentary about living beautifully with terminal and chronic illness. After getting to know Mark and developing an unbreakable friendship, one night in October, I said “enough is enough, we are done with these day jobs that keep sending us back to the hospital.” We laughed because we both know and understand that our work ethic has never stopped us from working despite how we are feeling.
Mark had been traveling and building up his presence as a public speaker across the country. However, he was still paying for stage time and had to work in his trade as a stonemason to continue to follow this dream of becoming a full-time speaker. Meanwhile, while chipping away at boulders to gather money to fund the cost of publishing his book, he managed to find himself back in the hospital again in Phoenix, Arizona in November. This time I could hear the fear in his voice. This was foreign to me. I have always heard him speak with such conviction about strength and never giving up. The doctors had reported that his bloodwork was concerning and that his scans generated a cause for concern. He spent two days in the hospital while they ran tests and biopsied the area of concern. The doctors could not decipher why Mark had aspirated. But, overall, Marks physical strength would pull him through once again and the doctors released him with an “all-clear until next routine visit.”
Again, Mark and I had a discussion. This time I was more assertive with my position that as of January 1, 2024, we were going to take to the stages and make a difference for people like us. I used the term “us” very specifically because there is a bond amongst those that have had to fight the psychological battle of hearing, “you are going to die.” For some, that phrase brings in a downward spiral of defeat. For others, it presented a challenge to overcome. Mark and I knew that we weren’t done changing the world, so death would just have to wait until we were ready. Here we were, two survivors that battled through odds that psychologically would set out to destroy most people. We began a brainstorming session of ideas. I told him about one of my talks titled, “Dying to Live.” Mark went through life altering surgeries. From that train of thought, “Operation IMPACT” was born. Mark and I wrapped up our conversation and I let him rest up. He was still not feeling well after spending a couple of days in the very hospital where he had his two sets of lung transplants.
I wanted, whatever we put together, to make a genuine impact on the world. The Face of Illness project was about putting a voice out to the world to change the perception that illness comes with a dim light of doom and gloom.
Thanksgiving Day came around, and I knew that Mark was in a low place, wondering how he will move forward because he was not recovering as quickly as he had hoped and could not return to work. So, I got up at 4 AM, like I always did, and drove to my office. This time, I sat down, and I outlined an entire Speaker Summit & Training Tour that encompassed everything now known as The Operation IMPACT Tour. This tour was made to give Mark a safe and secure stage to speak on, nine months out of the year. His dedication to his speaking and coaching program will allow him to gain the presence and recognition that is so well-deserved. I called Mark that evening and told him that it was done. Now it was time to get this funded and moving.
Christmas Day yielded another turning point and addition for Operation IMPACT. Mark sent me a text message that his oldest brother had passed away that evening. Unbeknownst to me, “Rondo” also had the same lung condition from also being a stonemason, only he refused to undergo the lung transplant that Mark had 12 years ago. Earlier that afternoon, Mark and Rondo shared a Christmas conversation and Mark was able to tell him that he loved him and that he was going to go on tour with his speaking. Rondo said he was proud of his little brother. The call came a few hours later, that his brother peacefully passed away in his sleep.
So, to honor Mark, I created the Ronnie “Rondo” Rodriguez Scholarship Award that signifies, “Courage, Bravery, and Dedication.” I explained to Mark that his brothers Warrior Spirit will now travel with him in every city and on every stage.