PASADENA, CA--Traveling during the holidays, especially cross-country, is always a challenge. But for Michael DiPiano and his wife, Karen, the rigors of a 3,000 mile flight, and the demands of rising especially early, with a 3-hour time change, was well worth the satisfaction.

Michael DiPiano was honored to be on the Donate Life Float, at the 131st Rose Bowl Parade, on Jan. 1, 2020, which again traveled through the streets of Pasadena, California.

Mike and Karen were scheduled to depart Newark Airport on Dec. 29 for an early morning flight. However, their flight to Los Angeles was particularly late in leaving Newark, and the two had to hustle to make it to parade activities upon landing in California after a 5-hour trip, not to mention the time spent in the airport, waiting to board the plane.

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Nevertheless, they got to Pasadena, on time.

Michael had been selected to be on the float for his tireless efforts in promoting organ donation. Over 20 years ago, his own life had been saved by organ donation, and since then, DiPiano has been a huge advocate of what it means to be an organ donor.

A Hall of Fame wrestling coach and later an athletic director at his beloved St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, NJ, DiPiano overcame severe diabetes when, on Oct. 25, 1998, he received a new kidney and pancreas from a donor named ‘Sean’, who had died a day earlier in an automobile accident.

So, how was it, riding on the float and greeting hundreds of thousands of people who lined the streets at the parade?

“It was amazing,” said DiPiano. “A once in a lifetime experience, going those seven miles on the parade route. The people were amazing. When our Donate Life float went by, they were chanting ‘Don-ate Life’ over and over. It was something else.”

DiPiano received an additional honor when he was selected to wear the hat of the late Gary Foxen. Gary was the driving force behind the Donate Life Float, which made its debut at the 2004 Rose Bowl parade.

Foxen had been a recipient of a lung transplant and wanted to spread the word about the life-saving benefits of organ, eye and tissue donation and inspire a nation to celebrate the lives of donors, their families and the lives of those who have been saved by organ donation.

Gary’s iconic hat will always be a part of the parade, and this year, Mike was selected to hold and wear it.

“Gary is the reason why I was able to be here this year,” said DiPiano. “He worked hard to get the Donate Life float as part of the parade. To be chosen to wear his hat was really something.”

DiPiano also had the chance to sit with some children, on the float, who have received organ donations. Among those was Sam Prince, a 16-year-old student at West Essex High, in North Caldwell, who had a heart transplant when he was 8-years-old.

“Those kids are very special,” said DiPiano, who for many years has played Santa Claus at St. Barnabas Medical Center, in Livingston, for children who have undergone transplants.

Mike's children, Michael, Michelle and Frank were all home, watching their dad at the parade. They had a great video of the family cheering when Mike's image came through on television. 

Mike and Karen were scheduled to fly home on the evening of Jan. 2.

“Right now, I want to have some dinner and then get some sleep,” said Mike, with a laugh. “We had to be on the bus this morning at 4 a.m. to get to the parade route. It will be nice to sleep a little, before heading back.

“But once again, I’ll never forget this day. I’m so grateful to have participated.”

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