When Plante Moran Partner Mike Baker announced he was going to be participating in SwingShift and the Stars, a live, “Dancing with the Stars”-style extravaganza performed at the City Opera House in Traverse City, Mich., I was surprised. After all, he’s never been much of a dancer. But Mike has a big heart, and 100 percent of the funds raised through voting and donations are given to local charities.
However, supporting Leelanau Children’s Center (LCC) wasn’t the only reason Mike decided to participate. His is an inspiring story—and one I thought was particularly appropriate on the heels of Thanksgiving. In that spirit, I’ve invited Mike to tell the story in his own words. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Traverse City Office Managing Partner Mike Baker.
My story begins back in May 2014 when Amy, my wife of 22 years, passed away. As you can imagine, it was a pretty rough year for me and our kids—Jennie (19), Brendan (17), and Mollie (12). I wasn’t taking care of myself the way that I used to, and I really ballooned up. Even though I had a lot of support from friends, it got to the point where all I’d do was go to work and then go home. My kids needed me and, quite frankly, I just didn’t want to do anything else.
Then, this June, Tom Aja, another Traverse City partner, was approached about participating in SwingShift and the Stars. He declined but said, “I have the perfect guy for you.” At first I said, “No way,” but then I got to thinking about it: maybe this was just what I needed—something to motivate me to get out, something that gives back to the community, and a way to get back into shape. I issued a challenge to the Traverse City office—raise $4,000 for LCC, and I’m in. They raised that money in short order (which made me think I set the goal way too low).
I immediately set upon a stringent diet and exercise program—no way was I getting up in front of all those people in my current condition—and lost about 20 pounds before the program kicked off on August 20. It works like this: six local “celebrities”—I use that term loosely and liberally—are paired with instructor/choreographer partners and select a charity to support. There are four events, one per month between September and December, where we compete for votes and to raise money for our charities. Each event has a specific theme—so far we’ve done a rumba, a foxtrot, and soon I’ll tango—which we perform live for an audience of approximately 400 people and four judges. The judges then give us comments. They’re a lot nicer than the judges on “Dancing with the Stars,” but if I’ve heard “You need to smile more” once, I’ve heard it 1,000 times over the past couple of months. So, I’m working on that.
My instructor Sharon Pascoe and I practice two-to-three hours at least three times a week. The hardest part is that first day of learning a new routine—I feel like I’m back in kindergarten with no idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. But Sharon sticks with me, and soon I know the routines and it’s just about the fine-tuning. Early on, she recommended that I watch “Dancing with the Stars” on Monday nights. I thought, “Hmmm…there’s baseball and there’s Monday Night Football—that’s not going to happen.” But now my youngest daughter and I watch it together every week. Sometimes I even text Sharon and say, “Did you see that? We should try that.”
I can’t begin to explain what this experience has meant to me. My kids—especially my youngest—love that I’m doing it. I’ve lost another 8 pounds, and it’s sparked my competitive spirit. So far, I’ve won the audience favorite award twice, so my goal is to sweep that category across all four events. And people at Plante Moran and in the community have been great about cheering me on and supporting me.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful to Tom Aja for bringing me this opportunity. I’m thankful for SwingShift and the Stars and for my patient yet challenging partner. I’m thankful for my three amazing children who, despite having to endure a lot the last few years, are extremely positive and motivated kids, and I’m thankful for Plante Moran where I’ve worked for almost 31 years now. These past few years have been difficult, but the staff and other partners have rallied around me in a way that I believe is unique only to this organization. Finally, I’m thankful to Gordon, for lending me his blog for the next two weeks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a tango to perform.
If you live in the Traverse City area and would like to cheer Mike on, you can purchase tickets here.