By Zinta Aistars. Published in LuxEsto, Kalamazoo College alumni magazine, Spring 2006 issue.
In his sophomore year at Kalamazoo College, Jothy Rosenberg '78 was told he wouldn’t live to be a junior. He had lost his right leg to osteogenic sarcoma at age 16 and the cancer was in his left lung.
"The doctor told me no one had ever survived this kind of cancer metastasizing," Jothy recalls. It was the early 70’s, and chemotherapy was a relatively new concept in cancer treatment.
Jothy submitted to an experimental treatment for ten months and surgery removed the diseased lung, but his odds remained the same in the doctor's eyes — zero.
Jothy's eyes, however, were focused on another horizon. If he had only a little time left to him, he thought, he might as well spend it skiing. All his young life he had been an athlete. In high school, he held a state record in swimming, played football, hockey, and baseball. Jothy packed up his car, left Kalamazoo College, and headed west to the snowy mountains.
"Two quarters went by as I skied in Utah, and when I saw the snow melting, and realized I was still very much alive —" Jothy smiles, "I figured it was time to go back to Kalamazoo and resume my studies."
Although he was born in California, Jothy grew up in the Detroit area, son to two physicians. His brother, Michael, graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1975 (and also went on to become a physician), so Jothy had an eye on the College early. "I liked that it was a small school with a personal touch, and study abroad attracted me," he says. "I had teachers with whom I had great relationships, but perhaps none more instrumental than Professor Thomas Jefferson Smith. These were the days before computers, so he actually spent two to three extra hours for each class that I missed due to chemo, sending handwritten notes to me at the hospital so that I could keep up. He allowed me to take open book tests from home, and worked hard to make it possible for me to keep up with my studies. And Bob Kent, who coached the swim team, allowed me to work out with the team even though I couldn't compete. That helped keep my self-esteem strong as well as to keep me in shape. This is what typifies the 'K' experience for me. Kalamazoo College respects students, and puts students first."
Jothy did not decide on a major for a long time. Struggling to get and stay healthy, he put special value on enjoying life. "There was no real method to my madness back then," he says. "I took physics, but didn't enjoy it. I switched to history. While I was sick, I read the 13-volume set of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire because I love history. But then I also started taking math classes, and I had no idea what to do with math. But that didn't matter. Math was fun. So I finally declared my major in mathematics."
Too sick to go on study abroad his junior year, Jothy was able to go to Strasbourg during his senior year. He purchased a car in Europe, modified to his needs with a left-footed accelerator, and toured the continent, after which he arranged to bring the car back to the States. For his career development project, Jothy worked in the same hospital where he had been treated. "I met Carole [Hohl] there. She was a medical technician, and I was a computer geek in the back room," Jothy recalls. The two of them went on to graduate school at Duke (Jothy earned a Ph.D. was in computer science), then married in 1981, when Jothy was given a clean bill of health.
With their two-year-old son Brendan in tow, the Rosenbergs moved to Durham, North Carolina, where Jothy became the vice president of a non-profit microelectronics research firm. They would eventually return to Duke so that Jothy could teach computer science at his alma mater for five years, "but I felt the constraint of the academic world when I wanted to spend time building a new kind of supercomputer. I decided to take the plunge at a new start-up business of my own, and where better to build a supercomputer than in Silicon Valley. We moved to California."
The start-up was called MasPar Computers, and Jothy headed up a team of 12 as senior software developer and manager. Two more Rosenbergs joined the family: Zachary and Joanna. After four years with MasPar, Jothy was lured away by the opportunities presented to him by Borland International, where he was hired as vice president and general manager. But Jothy was not one to stay in one place for long. By 1997 the East Coast called Jothy back once again as Borland transferred him to be General Manager over a company in Boston they had just acquired.
“My children weren’t very happy with me for making a move across the country,” Jothy says. “It took them a while to forgive their dad. But today, my son Zach is a diehard Red Sox and Patriots fan, and the family grew to love the rich culture of the Boston area. When a chance to return to California came up again years later, I passed it by.”
Jothy became the CEO and chief technology officer of another start-up company, GeoTrust, focusing on problems of Internet security. “The Internet is a hot entrepreneurial area, but many consumers are not comfortable using it because they are not sure they can trust it. We developed monitoring tools that allow Web site owners visibility into their users.” Jothy wrote two books, one from his debugger work at MasPar and Borland, and one from his expertise on Web security: How Debuggers Work (1996), and Securing Web Services with WS-Security (2004).
Although Jothy Has changed jobs many times, he has remained steadfast on his connection with Kalamazoo College and his enthusiasm for physical fitness. He served as president of the 1833 Society, and he helped the College build a secure Web site.
“I’ve always looked for ways to give something back to Kalamazoo College,” he says. “I want to do whatever I can to help the College remain strong and true to its principles, a place where more students could have the incredible kind of support I had.”
Challenges continue to fuel the furnace of his will and motivation. The same year that he began his start-up company in Boston, 1997, a friend asked him to sponsor her on an AIDS fundraising bike ride from Boston to New York. “Too bad you can’t do that,” she said.
Jothy does not use a prosthetic leg when riding a bike, because he found it to be a dead weight. He clips into the left pedal (there actually is no right pedal) and pulls up as well as pushes down. He attaches folding crutches to the back of the bike for mobility when he needs to stop and move around. Each day he rode the bike, increasing his distance, working up from a half mile to 25 miles, then longer. The next year, in 1999, Jothy rode 375 miles in the AIDS bike ride from Boston to New York, and then continued to participate in fundraising bike marathons every year thereafter.
“That first year it was really about me,” he says. “I had to prove to myself that I could do it.”
Since then, Jothy has been on the Northeast AIDS 350-mile bike ride, the Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses (an annual spring fundraiser for cancer survivors), and the Pan Mass Challenge bike ride for cancer research. He has also participated in the Alcatraz Swim in San Francisco, raising money for Boston Healthcare ride for the Homeless, the Provincetown Harbor Swim for AIDS, the Marblehead Swim for Help for Abused Women and Children, and others.
“I train every day,” he says. “I’m a maniac about exercise. I ride 100 miles on my bike and swim 5 miles a week to keep in shape. This, my twelfth year, I did my personal best in the Alcatraz swim at 37 minutes and two seconds, coming in with the first 100 finishers. It’s a powerful and moving moment for me every year.”
As Jothy emerges from the water at the end of his swim, the crowd watches as someone, usually his daughter Joanna, walks into the water to meet him with a pair of crutches. “There is this dramatic transformation in the crowd as they go from questioning why this person needs crutches to seeing me come slowly out of deep water. They roar their appreciation and encouragement as they realize the reason.”
The same effect keeps Jothy pumping on his marathon bike rides. “Way to go!” someone will call out, or, “You inspire me!” “You’re my hero!”
“My family threatens to wear ‘We’re with Jothy’ T-shirts next year to get some attention, too,” he laughs. “My personal favorite is—‘Great leg!’”
In 2005, Jothy raised more than $14,000 for causes sponsored by his swims and bike rides.
New challenges beckon. Recently, Jothy accepted a position with a Portland, Oregon fabless semiconductor company called Ambric while remaining an advisor with his last start-up, Service Integrity, back in Boston.
“I am being asked to tackle what I consider a grand challenge at Ambric,” he says. “It’s been an elusive dream for 25 years. Ambric's technology is the first example of 21st century computing that is real and practical, It's the first departure from 1950's computing approaches. I like to call it 'software at the speed of hardware'.”
Not wanting to give up home base in Boston, the Rosenbergs have decided, at least for now, not to move to Oregon, so Jothy keeps an apartment in Portland. He works in Portland for two weeks, then flies home to Boston to work for one week. “I keep up with my workouts,” he says. “I joined a club in Portland with a great pool, and I get in about 2,500 yards per day. I am having a bike built for me to use in Portland, and the good news is that you can ride year round if you don’t mind getting wet now and then. In Boston, I have to put my bike up in November and can’t use it again until April. When I am home, Carole and I continue our favorite workout together: we ride 12 miles to Walden Pond, swim across and back (about one mile total), then ride home. I don’t bother with crutches on the bike for that. I just ride the bike right to the water’s edge.”
Another new challenge has caught Jothy’s interest. For years, he has been asked to tell his story. People want to know how he has learned to deal with adversity and cope with disabilities. “I’m working on my third book. The first two were about software, but this one is my own story. I want to remove the word ‘considering’ from people’s descriptions of my accomplishments. I never want to hear ‘he’s good, considering…’”