Interview with Extra Life’s Doc Jeromy Adams
Kalvin Martinez / Oct 7th, 2013 No Comments
Extra Life began back in 2008 by Doc Jeromy Adams to honor the memory of Victoria Enmon and her battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia. What started as an effort by the Sarcastic Gamer Community to support Tori during her hospital stays and battles with the disease eventually morphed into a 24-hour video game marathon to help raise money for the hospital that treated and helped Tori. Moving from a small movement to support the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Doc Jeromy’s area to help kids like Tori; Extra Life turned into a bigger event that allows gamers from across the country to support their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals by participating in a 24-hour video game marathon.
[adsense250itp]At this year’s E3, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Doc Jeromy Adams of Extra Life to talk about the organization, what drove its formation, its mission and how people could get involved with the charitable event. Speaking with not only Jeromy Adams, but many of the other people involved with Extra Life during E3; it was clear that these are wildly passionate people with a clear goal of helping kids in need by mobilizing gamers to do what they love to do and raise funds for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Reading about Tori’s story touched me on a profound personal level and hearing how it motivated Jeromy to create such a force for positivity in the world was moving.
During the interview, I shared a deeply personal story with Jeromy, I have included it with the rest of the interview rather than cutting it. While I did not share it with Jeromy, when I was going through that difficult period, there was one thing that brightened up the otherwise morose experience for me. Video games, which seems too on the nose, but that is why Extra Life resonated with me so much. In the hospital, the one source of enjoyment was a Super Nintendo that they brought in before they were going to prep my brother and I for a bone marrow transplant. He threw in a cartridge of Aladdin and playing through that game was the one thing that stopped my thoughts of suicide and depression. Video games have always been a huge part of my life. So much so that when I got out of the hospital, my best friend at the time and I were playing Banjo and Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 when I told him what happened. Video games may be trivial, but as Jeromy said during the interview, if this can help raise money to get sick and injured kids help then it is all worth it.
Kalvin: This is Kalvin Martinez, Associate Editor for Gaming Illustrated. I’m here with,
Jeromy Adams: Jeromy Adams with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the Extra Life Program.
Kalvin: Hey, Jeromy. I’d like you to tell me a little bit about the foundation and the formation of Extra Life, the reason behind it and what you’re trying to get across with gamers, and in general, with your nonprofit.
Jeromy Adams: Extra Life was founded in memory of a little girl who changed my life. When I was in my previous career, I was in radio. We did a radiothon every year. That radiothon benefited my local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital. In the course of doing this, I met Victoria. At that time, she was 11 years old when I first met her. She came bouncing into our lives and she was considered a long-term survivor of leukemia.
The next year, I had her name come up on my interview list again and I was thinking, “We’ve already interviewed her”. They said, “This is a followup.” Instead of a bouncy, 11-year-old girl, a very small, skinny, bald, little 12 year-old girl rolls through in a wheelchair, and her leukemia had come back. We saw her through that and she had a bone marrow transplant and was considered cured again.
Then, I got a call from her mom the next year in the summertime, saying that the cancer was back and there was not much more they could do. We lost Victoria five months later in January of 2008. It hurt me very badly. I wanted to do something with that. I mobilized a gaming community that I had founded called Sarcastic Gamer. I got them [involved], and our sister sites around the Internet joined in, and we created Extra Life basically with the thinking if people that like to run can run and raise money, people that like to bike can bike to raise money, then why can’t people who like to game, game to raise money?
We founded it. Twelve hundred people showed up the first time online, raised $120,000. Three years later, I donated the rights to Extra Life to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, who have been incredible custodians and have helped funded its growth. It now benefits 170 children’s hospitals. Last year, 16,000 gamers participated and raised over $2.1 million worldwide.
Kalvin: That’s incredible, Jeromy. I’m sure everyone who’s had a family member who’s had cancer, who’s dealing with cancer or who’s unfortunately lost a family member, or your friend, or someone to cancer who can really relate with this story, it’s incredibly touching. I’m sorry about her loss and I’m sorry that … I’m trying to be delicate.
Jeromy Adams: You don’t have to be.
Kalvin: Her loss founded a really great thing. I’m not glad that she’s not with us, but I’m glad that it inspired you to do something so positive for people who are either in the same situation or in different situations.
Jeromy Adams: I found that we almost all have a story. This is one of those things where, once I start telling people about Extra Life, they start telling me their story, almost invariably. It’s one of the things that is unfortunate, but it binds us all together. We might have different consoles that we like, and we might have different foods that we like, and even different religions, but for the most part, we all freakin’ hate cancer. We all want children to be better and get to at least exit childhood into adulthood in some way. It’s a universal uniter.
As gamers, we’re about fun and we’re about having fun. It’s really in many cases, the child within us, we have that child that we foster through our game play. We’re being kids for that few minutes or a couple of hours, or sometimes days on end, that we play our games. I think it’s a perfect marriage, and Extra Life continues to grow year over year, not because of me, but because of that little girl Victoria and the change that she made in one person’s life, how it spread virally across the world, and touched so many other people.
I look upon this the same way you do. I wish Tori were here today. This is an incredible legacy for her and the fact that even just you and I getting to sit here and getting to share my story with you and your viewers, it was worth coming to L.A. for, just to sit here and share her with one more person.
Kalvin: I’m glad you did. I’m glad you took the time to talk with me. I’m curious as to what you’re … I don’t know if you could have expectations for this coming year, but are you optimistic about the growth of Extra Life, its awareness for people and their willingness to get involved in something as gamers, or even not as gamers, people who play on their smartphone or something like that, to do this in addition to other marathon charitable event they do.
Jeromy Adams: Extra Life is really about doing the things you love to do and using that passion to raise money and hope and awareness for sick and injured kids. I don’t care if you play a video game, a board game. There’s dice in our logo now for a reason. The tabletop gaming community is hardcore embracing Extra Life. I don’t care if you go outside and kick a ball against the wall. If you’re going to do it to help the sick and injured kids, then I want to meet you. I want you in our community because you’re the type of person we need.
Our expectation [for this year], Extra Life has never not doubled. I’m always happy if we just raise one more dollar than last year and touch one more person and get them involved in the movement, [if we do that] we’ve succeeded in my book.
Kalvin: What’s been the response from the Internet? Obviously, there’s Reddit, who is a big supporter of yours and that’s how I came to really get in touch with your story, through their raising awareness of it last year. What do you hope that the Internet can help you do to get this out there? There’s the traditional media, which is slow to get to people, but with the Internet, you have the ability to reach millions of people globally with the right things immediately. How do you want to spread the awareness outside of, let’s say an interview with me, where I blast it with some of the people that come to our site? What are you looking to do with Extra Life and getting that to people?
Jeromy Adams: We have Crowdsourced this from the beginning. We asked our community to double their number and we’ve never actually doubled the number of gamers in a year’s time, but we’ve doubled dollars every year. We just take it to the community and say, “Look, we need 5,000 more people this year. Can you help us? Can you spread the word?” What we do is we arm our community with all the assets. We don’t keep our logo files locked up and all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s pretty much like open-source fund raising here, where everything you might need to spread the word is there and if you don’t have it, we’ll flippin’ make it for you. We will either help you make it or make it for you.
That’s an outlook that served us very well. This is a movement of the people and by the people. This is our community’s event. It’s not our event, if that makes sense. We let them run with it and we just keep fueling the fire.
Kalvin: That makes perfect sense. I’m curious, I know there’s probably some instructions online, but can you go through what the process is for say, someone who reads this and they want to go to their local school to participate? How would they go about setting up an Extra Life in their neighborhood, among their friends?
Jeromy Adams: Super easy. Log on to extra-life.org. You sign up. It takes up about three minutes to sign up. In the sign up process, you’ll pick your local hospital. You can either choose one that’s near you, or if there’s a hometown that you have that you want to do something for the hospital back home, you can pick any of the 170 children’s hospitals that are among the best in the world that you want to support.
Then that will generate a fund raising page. You can upload your picture. We’ve got tools on the website where you can just upload your address book from your e-mail account. We don’t do anything with the addresses, but you can then e-mail out to all your friends and family with a link into your fund raising page. You can tie it to your Twitter. You can tie it to your Facebook. It’s all really simple, really easy to set up. Within 30 minutes of signing up for Extra Life, you can have signed up, e-mailed everyone you know, post it on Facebook, decked out your page. It’s the easiest fundraising program that I’m aware of.
Kalvin: You’ve seemed to have really optimized it for Internet and that’s really impressive. Jeromy, I’d like to say that, not only does Tori’s story’s touch me, when I was 10, I got really sick in the summer. I could not stand. I went to the hospital and they’re like, “Oh, we don’t know what’s wrong with you.” Then, about two days later, they tell me, “You have leukemia.” It got dire. They were about to prep me for a bone marrow transplant. They told my twin brother, “Yeah, you might have to give him bone marrow.” Then at the last minute, they’re like, “No, it’s just a virus. You just weren’t producing red blood cells.”
Something like Tori’s story hit me on a personal level. Your organization is important because you’re really helping these people who are going through this harrowing experience, one that changed me profoundly. It was something I could not forget. If that hadn’t happened, I would be a different person today.
Jeromy Adams: You said you were 10 when that happened? What went through your mind? You’re old enough at that point to know something serious is happening. What goes through your mind when you hear that you have leukemia?
Kalvin: I was like, “I’m not going to live to drive to a car. I’m probably not going to live to see the next two years.” It was devastating. I was in so much pain and so … just sad. I looked at my mom, and I said, “Please just kill me, because I don’t want to live through this pain.” It was impossible to process in many ways. To see that you are taking such a passion from this story and really running with it and doing something hugely positive for kids out there going through a similar experience, and not even just kids, but just people. It’s really touching.
Jeromy Adams: It’s an honor to meet you, bro. I’m glad you shared your story. I hope that we can maybe mobilize your community to form a team around you guys and let’s do something big this year.
Kalvin: Anything else that you’d like to say to anyone out there interested in Extra Life?
Jeromy Adams: You know what? I just want to thank all the folks who’ve already been participating in Extra Life. You’re amazing. To those that are just coming into the Extra Life community, it doesn’t matter whether you think you can raise a billion dollars or if you only know a few people, the real important thing to do is just to take that first step and sign up, and see how that feels. It feels good.
Then, send out those e-mails. That feels good. When you get that first donation, it’s like your friends and family is saying, “You know what? I love you, man. It doesn’t matter that you’re not running a marathon. You can play video games. I’ll support you,” because at the end of the day, we all do want the same thing. We want to make sure that when kids get hurt or they get really sick like you did, that there’s a hospital close to them that is ready for everything, that is ready to say, “Get in here right now. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can pay for it. Get in here and we will fix you. We will fix your child.”
At the end of the day, we all want that. I think we can all agree that we want that.
Kalvin: Jeromy, that was beautiful. Thank you for your time. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.
tags: charity , Children's Miracle Network Hospitals , Extra Life , gaming marathon , interview , Jeromy Adams