An invitation to imagine and tales of courage are woven through three recent books written by former MDA National Goodwill Ambassadors Benjamin F. Cumbo IV (1996-1997), Mike Neufeldt (1987-1988) and Mattie J.T. Stepanek (2002-2004).
That’s the challenge thrown out by 18-year-old Ben Cumbo in his self-published novel King Me! This challenge is followed closely by a second: Act on your imaginings.
Cumbo, who has Becker muscular dystrophy, began working on his story at age 14, at the behest of high school teachers. A video gamer, avid reader and lover of “spirited conversations on world issues,” Cumbo combined a little of everything in his spy/action/philosophical/political/game-playing/coming-of-age plot.
The story centers on four high school friends from parochial school — the Four Apostles — known for their high ethics. Now young adults who’ve taken separate paths to success, the our meet each year to ponder the big questions of life (and question their own consciences) while playing a marathon session of the war board game Risk.
“King Me! reduces the world’s ills to conversation and a contest of strategies that becomes a test not just of skill but a challenge to the values that rule our planet,” said Richard M. Cohen in his foreword. (Cohen, who has multiple sclerosis, is the author of the best-selling Blindsided, published last year.)
Cumbo, of Upper Marlboro, Md., is no stranger to accomplishment. At age 10 he designed monkey bars for kids with disabilities and at 13 he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on behalf of the MD-CARE Act. An Eagle Scout and honor student, he’s currently a freshman history major at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Copies of King Me! are available online at Amazon.com.
Mattie J.T. Stepanek’s final volume, Just Peace: A Message of Hope, is a collection of personal e-mail correspondence with former President Jimmy Carter and previously unpublished prose. The book was compiled and edited (at Stepanek’s request) by his mother, Jeni, after his death in 2004 from mitochondrial myopathy at age 13.
Like Cumbo, Stepanek urges readers to offer the best of themselves as a gift to the world. “The purpose of this book (is) to offer insights on why conflict and violence exist in a world filled with people who are generally and genuinely good,” writes Jeni Stepanek in her preface. “Most of all, Mattie wanted to share his thoughts on the ‘profound simplicity of choosing and planning peace.’”
It’s clear from his e-mails to Carter how much Stepanek struggled with this “simple” choice. At age 11 he wrote, “Did you ever have hard times? I mean inside? Like you wondered about your message?...
“I do believe in peace and hope and forgiving. But once in a while, I feel very stressed inside and almost torn up. I am so upset about having a disability and knowing that for the rest of my life I will be on life support which means I won’t be independent. I am upset knowing that I will probably die while I am a kid or teenager... Then I feel guilty for not feeling peaceful inside, when I tell people how important it is. Am I still a peacemaker? Can I learn to be peaceful all the time?”
Just Peace raises these kinds of questions and then dares to suggest answers. It is available in bookstores from Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Tom Pipines and Mike Neufeldt
Sports enthusiast and Marquette grad Mike Neufeldt helps readers imagine life during the heady “magic carpet ride” of the Marquette University men’s basketball team’s fight to the 1977 NCAA Championship, in the lively book Tales from the Marquette Hardwood, co-written with Milwaukee TV sports reporter Tom Pipines.
Through personal interviews with well-known players and coaches, Tales recreates memorable moments both on and off the court, and gives insight into the colorful Coach Al McGuire. It’s available online from major online booksellers, as well as local bookstores.
A Marquette basketball fan since he was in middle school, Neufeldt, 29, graduated in 2000 with a degree in broadcast and electronic communications. He works in the interactive communications department at Harley-Davidson Motor Company, near his home in Milwaukee. A member of MDA’s National Task Force on Public Awareness and co-host of his local MDA Telethon, Neufeldt has Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy.