Strength in #s: Mike’s NATO


Usually features stories behind watches. This time around the story is about a strap. Specifically, that pink-striped NATO strap you’ve been seeing everywhere on Instagram – and for good reason: 100% of the proceeds are donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. But just as important as raising money to find a cure, by purchasing and posting this NATO strap on Instagram – you’re also showing support for a member of the watch collecting community and his wife – who’s bravely putting up a fight against breast cancer.

Some of you reading this follow Mike on Instagram – @mikeswatches – so you know a little about his family’s story and how his collaboration with Crown & Buckle came about.  Even if you already know the gist, I ask you to keep reading: The message of generating awareness about the disease and rallying around a worthy cause bears repeating.

If you’re finding out about Mike and his wife for the first time, I hope you give him a follow. But more importantly, I hope you follow in the footsteps of his extended family: His fellow watch lovers known as the #watchfam. Their collective words of encouragement and thoughtful gestures have been a much-needed source of comfort and hope for Mike and his wife.


At the beginning of the year, Mike and his wife were floating on “cloud nine.” The joyful feeling had everything to do with being proud parents of a happy and healthy one-month-old baby boy. They embraced their role as parents and all the responsibilities – and sleepless nights – that came with it.

While breastfeeding their son one day, Mike’s wife felt a lump under her skin. She called her doctor right away and described her symptoms. Over the phone, the doctor told her that the lump was probably harmless – most likely and irritation related to breastfeeding. But – to be on the safe side – she underwent a battery of tests, including a mammogram and biopsy. They resumed their lives – curious about the test’s findings – but not about to overreact or think the worst…

When the results were in, Mike got a call from his wife: The doctor wanted them to “come in immediately.” Instantly he got an anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach. Behind closed doors, their worst fears were confirmed: The doctor uttered the dreaded C-word: Breast Cancer. In an instant, their world turned upside-down.


Like most of us – when it comes right down to it – watches are merely a hobby for Mike – not something that defines him: His family is what he’s truly most-passionate about. During the early stages of his wife’s treatment – when his wife and infant son needed him most –  he made the easy decision to take a break from watches. In a post, he opened-up to the #watchfam about what happened and announced his time-out from Instagram.

Moments after pressing “send” Mike was inundated with comments, direct messages, phone calls – every mode of communication – expressing a range of motivating sentiments: From a simple thumbs-up emoji to offline conversations with #watchfam friends sharing their personal stories about loved ones who’ve fought cancer.

Before long, the doorbell was ringing and care packages of all kinds were flowing in. The wife of one buddy even sewed a blanket, to keep Mike’s wife warm while she waited around for check-ups and chemotherapy in the hospital.

As incredibly touching and helpful as these acts of kindness were, nothing and no one – not even Mike – could take his wife’s pain away or change the past. All he could do to help his wife was be a shoulder to cry on and offer his hand to hold. With cancer hitting so close to home, Mike desperately wanted to do more: He made up his mind to join the fight against breast cancer by raising money – the best way he knew how…


Mike turned to watches. Or rather, he hatched a plan to sell NATO straps to his friends and family. All the money he collected would be donated to a breast cancer research organization.  He contacted his friend Thomas, founder of Crown & Buckle, and inquired about placing a bulk order.

As soon Thomas heard Mike’s story, he stepped-up with a better offer: Designing a custom strap and donating every penny from sales to breast cancer research. Needless to say, Mike didn’t expect this. Here was another member of the #watchfam going the extra-mile to help him and his family. The only business left to do was finalize the engraving on the buckle. Mike and the team at Crown & Buckle tossed around numerous ideas – eventually settling on #Straps4ACure.

When the initial batch of 200 symbolic NATOs were finished, Mike gifted a few to his closest Instagram pals. Before being available on Crown & Buckle, they posted pictures of the strap – along with a blurb about Mike’s story. Word spread like wildfire among the #watchfam: In a matter of seconds, the watch community was clamoring for this pink-striped NATO strap. They wanted to show Mike and his wife they were in their corner – committed to spurring her on to beat breast cancer.


Within a few days all 200 NATOs were sold out. But being out-of-stock didn’t stop the #watchfam from abandoning the purpose behind them: A one-item auction was held by @watchesofinstagram with a hotly-demanded #Straps4ACure NATO up for grabs. The eventual winning bidder wrote a check for $1,350 – payable to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Mike and his wife – his entire family actually – are still wrapping their heads around this overwhelming response of unconditional support – much of it coming from folks they’ve never met. Mike just didn’t imagine the galvanizing effect a $16 nylon strap could have…

Rest assured the positive vibes Mike feels from everyone’s pictures and words carry-over to his wife: Her spirits are uplifted by the cumulative effect of so many people pulling for her – it’s just what the doctor ordered to face the tough road ahead and overcome this setback.


Mike would be the first to acknowledge that his family’s not the only one facing this terrible disease: Unfortunately, cancer affects way too many…The best medicine is more awareness, donations of any amount, and moral support.

Mike’s wife is by no means out of the woods, but right now she is doing well. Her chemotherapy treatment is wrapping-up and she’s awaiting surgery. While they’re fortunate to have family living nearby to lean on, they take comfort knowing they have #watchfam – all over – praying for them. At odd times of the day – when a pick-me-up is needed – all Mike or his wife have to do is grab a phone and search #Straps4ACure.

Update: My wife and I decided to donate $1 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for every “like” my June 7th Instagram post about this story received (within the first 24-hours of it going live). I’m proud to say that 668 members of the  #watchfam “liked” the post – including @bzabodyn214 – who’s family generously donated $333 to make the total gift to the on behalf of the #watchfam and in honor of Mike and his wife break $1,000!

As of 5/28/16 proceeds from #Straps4ACure NATO strap sales have raised $18,310 – all donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation!! To purchase this special strap from Crown & Buckle, Click Here.

If you’d like to make a one-time contribution to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, click here.

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5 thoughts on “Strength in #s: Mike’s NATO

  1. Amazing work Nick….very proud of you and what you have done to support Mike and to fight against this desease!


    Pedro (IG: paguiarneto)


    • Pedro…my pal! Thanks for always supporting me and THANKS for being another voice to spread the word about Mike and his wife. Can’t wait to catch up in-person one of these days!!


    • My man Paul,

      Thanks! Wifey and I are waiting for next batch to be ready from C & B…can’t imagine going through what Mike and his lady are going through. We’re tryin’ to help the best way we know how. #watchfam is the best!


  2. Pingback: Letter from the Editor | watch patina

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