SOUTH PLAINFIELD - Participants in the Color 3K Run for Rich gathered in front of South Plainfield High School for the start of the race at 1p.m. on June 1st.  Organizers of the event, Adrianna Clark and Becca Bloch, put together the Color Run for their Senior Project to benefit the family of beloved retired teacher Gloria Naso, whose husband, Rich Naso, fell ill with a bacterial infection shortly after his wife retired in 2017.  The infection spread to his spine, leaving Rich Naso permanently paralyzed and the Naso family devastated, faced with unexpected financial burdens as the couple adjusted to a very different retirement than they had planned.

“Mrs. Naso is a very enthusiastic person and she made her class always so much fun,” said Bloch. “She really made an impact on all of our lives because she really cared about her students.  We just wanted to do something to give back to her and help her out.”   

“Mrs. Naso’s class was honestly one of my favorite classes,” said Clark.  “She was one of the funniest teachers I’ve ever had and she truly cared about what she taught.  She was an English teacher and how she taught us everything was very personal.  We loved that.”

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Several former students, volunteers and supporters participated in the event.

“My son, Nicholas and my daughter Linda both had her,” said Dawn Farinella, parent.  “She’s a favorite teacher.  Everybody loved her.  Everybody was sad when she retired and to find out about her husband’s illness and struggles.  This was just such a thoughtful event on behalf of the organizers.  It was a great senior project.  So we’re glad to be here.”

“I’m excited to run for a good cause,” said Danielle McParland, Junior.  

“I’ve never done a Color Run before, but I’m glad this is my first,” said Mia Silverstein, Sophomore.

“Mrs. Naso was so dynamic as a teacher,” said Angi Glinn, parent.  “She was an amazing teacher, so down to earth.  This was a great choice for a senior project because it’s a good way to give back since Mrs. Naso taught forever and gave so much of herself to her classes and to the drama productions.  My son had her and he was amazing.”

“Mrs. Naso was Becca’s English teacher sophomore year of high school and she retired at the end of that year,” said Michele Catanio, Becca’s mom.  “It was after that that her husband became ill.”

When the Naso Family arrived, the crowd erupted with cheers.

“It was wonderful to come back and see all of my former students,” said Gloria Naso.  “It touched my heart.  I was very fortunate.  I had great kids and I love them.  And I think they loved me.  I was a very fortunate teacher because I had great kids.  I had a wonderful teaching experience.  I miss that dearly.”

“I miss you guys so much, you have no idea!” said Naso as she arrived and greeted the adoring crowd.  “I miss you all!  I miss all the crazy, fun stories.  Anybody been watching ‘Jeopardy?’  Anybody been watching ‘Game of Thrones?’  Any anachronisms in ‘Game of Thrones?’  The water bottles, right?  Anachronisms!”

Naso would take every opportunity to teach, often using television shows and other common, everyday encounters as teaching moments.  Even in retirement, she couldn’t help herself but to point out the historical inconsistencies, or anachronisms, in the popular HBO series.  The events of the past year had not taken away the sense of humor of the students’ beloved teacher.

Naso retired in June of 2017.  After decades of teaching, she joined her husband, Rich, in retirement and planned to relax and enjoy their senior years.  But on March 28, 2018, Rich came down with a stomachache.  The next morning, Gloria found him in septic shock, close to death.  Robert Wood Johnson doctors discovered that he had a bacterial infection and treated him with antibiotics while he lay in critical care on a ventilator.  Unable to figure out how Rich contracted the infection, doctors could not determine, which type of antibiotic to treat him with. 

“They were giving him all kinds of multiple antibiotics to try to fight it and it was working, but they didn’t know the exact type of bacteria that they were dealing with,” said Naso.  “The protocol is after ten days, you take them off the antibiotic, which is what they did, but the problem was the infection was still there.  Within a day after taking him off the antibiotic, it traveled into his spine.  It formed a pocket, pressed on his spine and permanently damaged his spine.”

Rich’s fever spiked and he was put back on antibiotics, but Rich’s spine suffered permanent impairment and he was paralyzed.

“Had they been able to identify the bacteria, they could have treated it with the right antibiotic,” said Naso.  “Once they knew that it was an infection in the spine, he was on antibiotics for seventy days, but the damage was already done.”

Naso says the challenges of Rich’s care are overwhelming and the financial demands are mounting so she is extremely grateful that the 3k Color Run for Rich can helps alleviate some of the burden.  

“We’ve been learning how to care for him,” said Naso.  “I have people that come in every morning that help me because I cannot do it alone.  Rich is six foot two inches tall, so dressing and caring for him is challenging.  It’s a new normal that we have to adjust to.”

Rich and Gloria Naso’s son, Rich, participated in the run.

“It was really great to be a part of this,” said Naso Jr. “I’m just glad for my mom and my dad that they could enjoy something like this and a big thank you to South Plainfield High School and all of the students that ran this 3k run and got everything set up.  It means a lot.” 

The 3k Color Run for Rich is part of a South Plainfield High School project requirement, but Bloch and Clark have taken the project to heart and given it true depth and meaning while involving the community.

“Our English teachers assign us the senior project,” said Clark.  “They tell us to go out and do something good in the world, so this is what we decided.  We do a whole project on it and presentation.”  

“I’m so excited,” said Clark. “We were very ecstatic to do this because we just wanted to do something very meaningful.  This was the perfect thing for us to do.”

The route of the color run was to circle South Plainfield High School twice.  While participants ran, designated volunteers threw cups of colored corn starch at them at specific points along their way, leaving the runners with a rainbow of colors on their white shirts by the end.

“I’m here helping out, volunteering,” said David Loniewski, Senior.  “We’re going to be throwing the color, so when they run by, we’re going to take cups and toss it on them.  It’s a great event and I know they needed help setting up and it’s fun.”

Runners came from as far as Long Island, New York, to participate and some brought their families.

“This is my daughter, Amelia’s, first race,” said Mike Talbot, runner.  “She’s only three years old.  My six-year-old, Lenora, has done a bunch of them.  I’m just trying to get them into running and exercise when they’re young and hoping that it carries over when they’re older and it’s for a good cause.” 

“This is my fifth race so far,” said Lenora Talbot, preschool student.  “I’ve done some at the Jersey Shore and I’ve also done a few in Basking Ridge and I did a lot of other long walks to train sometimes.  One of my favorite sports is running.”

The runners poised at the starting line, ready to go.

“I’m really pumped,” said Bloch.  “I’m so excited for everyone to be here and see the outcome of it all.  It’s been a lot of hard work and to see it pay off is really exciting.”  

“On your mark, get set, go!” said the starter.

Runners made their way around the high school, getting dowsed with colors along the way, seeming to enjoy every minute.  Crossing the finish line with smiles and laughs, the runners and gathered for a group photo with the Naso Family.

“I know that my mom really enjoyed her time as a teacher here,” said Naso Jr.  “For her to come back and have some more interaction with her students and for them to really so something for our family was a really big thing.  We’re really grateful and fortunate that the students could organize something like this.”  

“We’re very grateful for all of our friends who came out to support us and to volunteer and to help us out,” said Clark.  “We’re really grateful for all of them.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the family, can make a donation at www.gofundme.com/rich-naso for towards their Wheels for Rich fundraising campaign to contribute to the monthly payments of a handicap accessible vehicle as well as for numerous other expenses incurred since the onset of Rich Naso’s illness.