WEST ORANGE, NJ — Michael Mault has always longed to set sail aboard an old tall ship. The West Orange resident practically grew up at sea, expertly skippering small sailboats during blissful family summers spent in Cape Cod. But he has never had the chance to feel the gentle rocking of a ship on miles of open ocean, to set the massive sails of a large vessel or to navigate by the stars like an explorer from centuries ago.
What he has experienced is tragic loss — his mother Loretta Mault, older brother Dennis Mault and close friend Angelo Vayas of Maplewood all died from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. So when Michael Mault booked an approximately 5,000-mile voyage aboard the Europa, a 150-year-old tall ship that allows passengers to act as trainee crewmen, he decided to make the trip more than just the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: He is using it as an opportunity to raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association, or ABTA, in an effort to end the devastating disease.
“It’s taken three people that I loved,” Michael Mault told EssexNewsDaily in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “I hope what we’re doing is going to make some kind of difference in funding for research or just taking a step closer to an answer. It would be the ultimate memorial to three people that I loved.”
Michael Mault’s “Sailing for a Solution” fundraiser is off to a stellar start. The YouCaring page he established for the campaign had already brought in $16,886 of his $36,000 goal by press time Aug. 23. Such success was entirely unexpected, he said, but it is a welcome surprise. After all, the retired Marine and Maplewood police lieutenant said he would like to have a hand in stopping glioblastoma from being the death sentence it currently is for so many people.
Glioblastoma is a highly malignant brain cancer primarily affecting 45- to 70-year-old men that accounts for roughly 15 percent of all brain tumors, according to the National Institutes of Health. As with many tumors, the ABTA reports, the causes of glioblastoma remain unknown. What is certain is that the tumors are very difficult to treat due to their support from a large network of blood vessels and ability to reproduce quickly. Per the association, those diagnosed with the cancer typically live only 15 months.
None of Michael Mault’s loved ones lived long after being diagnosed, and all three were relatively young — Loretta Mault was 74 when she died, Dennis Mault was 53, and Vayas was only 50. Michael Mault said losing his mother, brother and friend during the prime of their lives was heartbreaking, especially since they were such vibrant, active people.
“We watched as (glioblastoma) took their thoughts, their cognitive ability and their speech and their memory, and finally their lives,” Michael Mault recalled. “It’s a horrible, horrible thing to see happen to people who were so alive.”
The 53-year-old fully realizes that he is about to achieve a lifelong goal at around the same age his brother lost his life. In fact, Michael Mault said that is precisely why he wanted to complete the trip in his brother’s memory and in the memory of his mother and Vayas. Of course, he also realizes that what he is about to do will not be easy for anyone of any age.
Aboard the Europa next month, Michael Mault and his shipmates will initially sail down the west coast of Africa until reaching Cape Verde. From there, they will embark on a 34-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the Equator to Montevideo, Uruguay. In that time, he will be expected to complete the tasks of a typical crew member, from setting sails to conducting weather observations to even taking the helm. It is a lot of work, which is why he said he expects to spend much of his free time on board sleeping.
“Conditioning-wise, it’ll be interesting to be challenged like that again,” the former Marine said. “I haven’t been challenged like that physically since Parris Island, since I went to boot camp.”
In addition to the intense labor, there is always the chance of encountering rough waters. But Michael Mault is not afraid. He explained that his father instilled a love of the sea in him and his siblings at a very early age, and ever since he has always been most at peace when sailing. He said his only apprehension is being away from his wife and three children for the duration of the trip.
But his family is in full support of the cause. Justin Mault, 22, his eldest child, told EssexNewsDaily that he is proud of his father for embarking on this trip in the ABTA’s name. Describing him as “probably the most selfless person I know,” Justin Mault recalled that his dad always put his son over his own priorities. While he said it feels “unreal” that his father is about to cross the Atlantic, the fact that he is going as a way to help others is no surprise.
By doing so, Justin Mault said he is happy to know that his father will finally be doing something for himself as well.
“I love him a lot,” Justin Mault said in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “But it’s his time. It’s his time to go out and do what he’s been wanting for all these years. He’s earned it.”
Laurie Norton, Michael Mault’s sister, agreed that her brother is generous, telling EssexNewsDaily that his heart is as big as his 6-foot, 4-inch tall body. Though Norton acknowledged that she is worried about her brother’s safety out on the open seas, she said that she is confident he knows what he is doing. And she is glad that he decided to dedicate his journey in honor of their loved ones, pointing out that the fundraiser is doing as much for their family as it is for the ABTA.
“When people get taken from you so young and so much in the vibrancy of their lives, it’s very hard not to ask why or be angry,” Norton said in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “Time heals, but it’s just always there. That pain never goes away. But to see the outpouring of generosity of people and that people want to help and do something good, I think that is a huge part of the healing.
“To see the generosity, it never replaces that hole in your heart but it restores your faith in humanity a little,” she added.
The Sailing for a Solution campaign has indeed attracted many followers. So far 145 people have donated to its YouCaring page, and an Aug. 5 event at West Orange’s Oak Barrel Pub was well-attended. Michael Mault said that Golda Och Academy, where he currently provides security, has also been highly supportive. In fact, it was the Jewish school that suggested he set $36,000 as his goal since it is a multiple of 18, a number representing life in Judaism.
Steven Madden is another major advocate of the fundraiser, both as a donor and a planner. Madden, a lifelong friend of Michael Mault, said the Maults have been like a second family to him ever since growing up across the street from them in Maplewood. Thus, he said it feels very fulfilling to hopefully help find a cure for the disease that robbed the world of two members of the family.
And Madden hopes that Michael Mault’s voyage is not the end of Sailing for a Solution. The campaign contributor said he is already talking with his friend about how to continue the program for years to come, whether in a similar format or a different one, such as sailing camps for children. He said that he would like to see the fundraiser go national, and he thinks it has the potential to do so.
“I don’t see this as a one-time deal,” Madden told EssexNewsDaily in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “It’s unique, (glioblastoma research) is an untapped area that needs attention and he’s combining his passion with this. I think it’s wonderful. Anybody can play golf or donate money to a charity or fundraise or things of that nature. This is different.”
Michael Mault said he would love to continue Sailing for a Solution in some way after his trip. He hopes to look more into how when he returns. For now though, he said he is just focusing on keeping up with his current fundraiser.
And the ABTA is certainly grateful, according to Jennifer Sloan, the group’s director of corporate and community engagement. Since the association is a nonprofit, Sloan said fundraisers like Sailing for a Solution are essential to its work. On average, the association brings in approximately $5 million per year, which supports its work in funding brain tumor research and providing resources to people afflicted with brain cancer. Sloan said these resources, which include an informational CareLine and mentorship program, make brain tumor patients feel as if they are not alone in coping with their disease.
Yet none of that work would be possible without people raising funds and awareness for the cause. The fact that Michael Mault is willing to embark on such a long journey to do just that speaks to the kind of person he is, Sloan said.
“He’s definitely a very passionate person and very caring,” Sloan told EssexNewsDaily in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “I think what he’s doing is very courageous.”
Sloan is only one of many to speak favorably of Michael Mault. His YouCaring page displays numerous comments praising him as an “inspiration.” Several people have even personally told him how brave he is, but he stressed that he is no hero. Those who fought glioblastoma to the bitter end like his mother, brother and friend are the real heroes, he said. He is simply a man with the opportunity to achieve his dream and the desire to allow would-be tumor victims to accomplish their own.
“I’m getting a pass to do something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Michael Mault said. “But I want it to mean more than just what I’m doing. I want it to mean something down the road.”
To donate to Michael Mault’s Sailing for a Solution fundraiser, visit https://www.youcaring.com/american-brain-tumor-association-571168.