Michael Lisa, the award-winning track photographer at Meadowlands Racetrack since 1999, knows what it is like to lose a loved one to cancer. He also knows what it is like to see a loved one survive
On Saturday night, the North Jersey native co-sponsors the second annual Lisa Photo Stride for the Cure Race at the Meadowlands. Drivers will compete in the race with autographed pink whips and fans will be able to bid on the whips in a silent auction. Also, Lisa’s specially designed merchandise for the event – coffee mugs, shirts and custom racing images – will be on sale. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.
The band "I Am Fighting," with a special appearance from Jersey Shore singer/songwriter Bobby Strange, will appear on the clubhouse level. Lisa’s son, Michael J., is a member of the band, which will open for “Neon Trees” at Six Flags Great Adventure in July. In addition, it’s Ladies Night, with all ladies receiving free racetrack admission after 5 p.m.
Lisa recently took time to talk with Harness Racing Communications’ Ken Weingartner about the Stride for the Cure Race and his career as a photographer.
HRC: How did you come to put this race and event together?
ML: My wife (Annette) was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2009, just before the Hambletonian. Between the surgeries and the chemo and the radiation, she went through a year of hell. My mom (Angelina) passed away from breast cancer 15 years ago. We were so impressed with the advances they’d made in the medical field in the last 15 years that we thought we had to do something to give back, something to help fund all the groundbreaking research that is being done. We wanted to help. You get so desperate when you hear “cancer” that you don’t even know what to do. After everything settled down, I brought it up to my wife about wanting to do something at the track. I had to get involved and try to do something.
HRC: Is everything OK now with Annette?
ML: Yeah. She’s my hero. She’s the strongest person I know. She’s amazing. She’s back to work, back at the gym every morning. She’s in better shape than I am. She's my inspiration.
HRC: How did you come up with the theme for this year’s event?
ML: I ran into an old friend that I hadn’t seen since high school. We got to talking and he told me that his wife had gone through the same thing; she’s a survivor of nine years now. Later I got an email from him to show his support, and at the end he said, “We’re all in this together.” I thought, wow. There it is. It was like a gift.
HRC: Hopefully, the event will continue to grow every year.
ML: I’m always looking for volunteers and I’m always looking for ideas. I’d love to get some more owners and drivers really involved in it. Everyone at the track has been really good, doing whatever they can to help. Hopefully it will grow. Last year, we had a decent turnout and raised some money. This year, it’s gotten a little bigger. Maybe more people will jump on board. I’m going to keep doing it until I get it right. And we’ll have fun doing it. It's a great way to support each other, to build relationships and networks that last a lifetime.
HRC: How long have you been doing photography?
ML: I’ve been at the Meadowlands since 1999. Before that I was always taking pictures. I played sports, so it was a natural to do sports photography. I went to Jersey City State College and studied fine art there. I had some photography courses there. My brother (Jim) was a photographer in the Navy. We were both interested in photography. My brother is the photographer now at Calder, doing the thoroughbreds.
HRC: What did you know about harness racing when you arrived at the Meadowlands?
ML: Nothing (laughs). I grew up in Hoboken, so the last thing I knew about was horses. I knew they marched in parades, that's about it (laughs). I don’t pretend to know. I look at it as an art. I think horses are beautiful animals, and that’s the way I approach it. It might not be the traditional way, but I’m always trying new things and seeing it in a different light.
HRC: How is shooting harness racing different from shooting other sporting events?
ML: It’s a little more controlled. With other sports, you really don’t know what’s coming. You have to anticipate what’s going to happen. In harness racing, you know they’re going to come down to the finish line and that’s the shot you need. You don’t have to worry about them running in a different direction (laughs). But like I said, when I look through the lens, I’m looking at a canvas every time I shoot. Even if it’s just a regular night at the racetrack, I’m always looking to compose inside the camera. It’s fun. It never gets boring to me.
HRC: Do you ever worry about missing a big shot?
ML: We have a backup at the track all the time, but you still worry about getting that nice shot. You want to catch them with all four off the floor; something that looks pretty.
HRC: What else have you been shooting?
ML: I do local high school sports around the area and Hoboken Little League. Last winter, I did the New York Giants; I was on the field for the last six home games. That was really exciting. That was great. I shot a Jets game. I shot the Millrose Games and I shot the Golden Gloves at the Garden (Madison Square). That was pretty amazing also. I did the NCAA East Regional championship (basketball) games at the Prudential Center in Newark. I also shot monster trucks. I couldn’t believe how loud it was. I’ve never heard anything louder. It’s insane.
HRC: Outside of the harness racing, what’s been your favourite thing to shoot?
ML: The Giants, no doubt. I’ve always been a football fan and I’ve always been a Giants fan. To shoot the games on the field was the ultimate for me.
HRC: You also were a musician in your younger days. What did you play?
ML: I played drums. I did it for 13 years. It got to the point where you realize that you’re not going to play the Garden, so you have to move on. I stopped when my son was two. He just blows me away. I watch him play and it’s ridiculous. He’s a drummer by trade, but he plays everything. He’s playing bass with this band he’s with now (I Am Fighting) and he plays guitar in his own band (Gold). He also writes and he produces, and somehow finds time to give his younger brother (Jason) bass lessons.
HRC: What have you not photographed, but would love to do?
ML: Good question...
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.
All the best Michael...hope
All the best Michael...hope it's a huge success!