Some people run marathons.
Jon Paschal does too; it’s just a different kind of marathon.
Every November, just like he has for the past 10 years, Paschal and his team, the Pixelheads, settle in for a 24-hour gaming marathon—8 a.m. to 8 a.m.—all to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.
“Nintendo launched in ’85, and I probably had one a year later. Now I game with my 8-year-old,” Paschal said with a laugh. “So I’ve done it basically all my life.”
It was his cousin who first turned Paschal onto Extra Life, an international event that brings together thousands of players around the world to host fundraising and gaming marathons to support local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
Paschal probably only gave a “couple of bucks” that first year, he remembers. But the lifelong Augustan liked how all the local money raised goes to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia—and he really liked the challenge of gaming for 24 hours. He was hooked.
The next year, he and his cousin co-captained a team that now has players spread across the United States, all gaming to raise money for CHOG. To date, they’ve raised about $50,000—just by fundraising and playing, bringing their personal equipment or taking turns on a Nintendo, Xbox, PS4 or board games.
“The more I learned about CHOG, the more I became passionate about helping,” Paschal said, whose wife, Mary, is also part of the team. He took tours and held a tiny preemie diaper—“it looks like it’d fit on a baby doll,” and he can now tell you all about Giraffe beds, a state-of-the-art incubator for the tiniest preemies.
Anyone can sign on to Extra Life to play and start their own team—and Paschal is always looking for people to join the Pixelheads. Every person has their own reason or five for being a part of Extra Life. For Paschal, now he thinks about his own daughter: “When I became a parent, I thought, man, if my kid ever needs help and I’m not able to provide that help for her, I feel like the Children’s Hospital is an amazing choice—they’re going to do what it takes.”
The other reason is his younger brother, Mitchell, who passed away when he was 18. “He was an organ donor,” said Paschal, “and I always say, ‘He’s not going to outdo me.’ It became a joking way to be motivated. He did some good literally in his final hours. I have the rest of my life to try and meet what he has done for kids and adults who literally received parts of himself.”
Paschal himself hosts about 30 Pixelheads at his home every year during the marathon. There’s a seating chart, extra cables to make sure breakers won’t pop, computers and tabletop games, and coffee—plenty of coffee. “Those of us who are hardcore start at 8 a.m. on Saturday and don’t hit the bed until 8 a.m. Sunday,” he said.
“The older I get the tougher it comes. Somewhere around 3 a.m., I hit a wall and it’s a hard one. I start not feeling well, but I think, ‘Right now, I’m feeling like garbage, but it’s one day. Kids on chemo literally feel like this every day. So I can overcome this stupid wall to help that kid right now.
“Not everyone can run a marathon. But this is a chance for anyone from any walk of life to give back to the community.”