Around Memorial Day of this year, I made the commitment to participate in the 2019 Run to Home Base, a wonderful charity event presented by New Balance and coordinated through Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Red Sox. It has brought tremendous awareness and funding to help our United States Service Men and Women who suffer from the unseen wounds of war, battle, combat, military operations. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a bump on the head or a scraped knee or a cut on your hand that is clearly visible to the naked eye. The Run to Home Base program helps Veterans and their families find help and medical treatment for the wounds we cannot see but are affecting their lives in a negative way every single day. Needless to say, I wanted to do my part to help this cause. I signed up and dedicated my race and training to my father, Mark, who has long suffered the effects of his military service from the Vietnam War.
The event is in in its 10th year and is held on the streets surrounding and leading to Fenway Park as well as inside Fenway. There is a 9K or 5K option when you sign up for the race. You can elect to walk, jog, sprint, walk with a stroller, I even saw a few people with service dogs yesterday at the event. There is a charitable minimum I had to reach ($850) for my registration and you can set a personal charity goal for yourself as well. I am so thankful to all of my family members, baseball friends, and the Rhode Island baseball community for helping me achieve my goal of $850, all of which goes to the Run To Home Base program, which is such an important program for military personnel and their families.
2 months of training produced some very positive results for me. I lost almost 10 pounds in the process of swimming, biking, running, stretching, and watching my diet. I had a bit of an ankle issue throughout, so I didn’t run as much as I would have liked. But, I have to say that physically, I have felt better than I have in years. My heart and lungs are in much better shape now than in years past, so the training really worked. Plus, by adding non-impact type exercises (swimming and biking), I really saved my legs and back to have to bear my 240 pound frame. Come race day, yesterday July 27th, I knew I was physically ready for the race.
A 4:30 am wake-up call was necessary to get packed and up to Boston. Rachel and I drove up early to get parking and to pickup my race bib and “swag.” When I was racing (10K, Triathlons) in my 20’s and 30’s, I used to love the swag bag. You always got the standard race T-shirt, some brochures from the race sponsor, maybe a Power Bar for the race, and other interesting stuff. Yesterday’s swag bag included the T-Shirt, some brochures, a baseball hat with Run to Home Base on it, dog tag, BioFreeze packet, and the 2019 “10 Years and Running” program. My name is in the back of this year’s program as a participant, so that was really cool to see. There was a “Yowie” from one of the leading sponsors, Raytheon, which I am still trying to figure out what to do with. I’ll have to ask my kids about that Yowie.
After the bib pickup, Rachel and I walked around the concession stand area near Gate B of Fenway Park and checked out a few vendors. At 7:00 am, we headed into the stadium with the other runners, walkers, family and friends for the Opening Ceremony. We all sat in the Grandstands and there was a platform built over the Red Sox dugout for speakers and dignitaries. The color guard presented our nation’s flag and a beautiful rendition of the nation anthem was sung. This moment, standing there with US Service Men and Women, Veterans, their families, holding my hat to my heart – I have to admit I got very, very emotional. The moment was so impactful for me, I will never forget it. The roar of the crowd when the anthem was finished went right up my spine and gave me a really incredible boost.
Starting with NESN’s Tom Caron, who served as the emcee of the Opening Ceremony, speaker after speaker came to the podium to talk about the Run To Home Base Program and its purpose. Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner gave an impassioned speech about how the event started, going to Walter Reed Hospital to meet Veterans, who has benefited from it, the corporate sponsors, as well as local and state government involvement. Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dr. Peter Slavin acknowledged the medical staff and programs that the Run To Home Base program offers and how it can help Veterans and their families get on a positive path to recovery. Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh each spoke briefly about their commitments to the programs and services that Run To Home Base provided to Veterans and their families. Representatives from Raytheon, BAE Systems, and New Balance spoke about their corporate sponsorship and why it was important for them to get involved. Jack Hammond, Brigadier General USA (retired), acknowledged members of the US military in attendance, the purpose of the program, how it has benefited Veterans, and why the program is so important to fundraise for. The final speaker was retired Navy Seal Chris Gemmer, who was himself a patient in the Run To Home Base Program. Chris spoke about his service career as a Navy Seal and the years following it, which resulted in depression, lack of confidence, physical trauma, and a negative spiral in his personal life. Chris sought help with and received treatment through the Run To Home Base Program and encourages any Veteran suffering to do the same. It was a fascinating line-up of speakers and each one was greeted with a loud applause from the crowd.
Any other day, I would have been satisfied just by attending that ceremony. However, I had a 5K to run and be a part of. The runners were ushered out of their “comfortable” seats inside the Stadium to the starting line on Jersey St, which normally has throngs of Red Sox fans with a beer/water/soda in one hand and a sausage/hot dog/burger in the other. But yesterday, it was just hundreds of runners and walkers lined up to head out onto the streets of Boston. I was so fired up emotionally at that point, I almost forgot about my bad ankle. The announcer gave the signal for us to start towards the starting line and then I was off. There were so many people, I had to weave my way through the crowd of runners and walkers to get a clear path. Really though, I didn’t care one bit, this wasn’t about time. It was about completion and participation and respecting my fellow participants. I “High Fived” about 500 military men and women along the race course, as did most of the other racers. I witnessed military personnel in full gear, carrying rucksacks, boots not running shoes, some even carrying flags. One military runner was even carrying a log, in full gear, and I saw him transfer it from side to side. What an incredible sight it was running with military families, the US Military Men and Women in Uniform, Veterans, kids, dads, moms, sisters, brothers, grandparents. So emotional that I really didn’t care about my physical ailments – left hamstring was “hamstrung” – I just kept my head up, high-fived, yelled “Thank You” to whoever I could, and was smiling from ear to ear.
One of the coolest parts of the race itself was coming through the center field garage and winding up in the outfield warning track dirt next to the Green Monster at Fenway. I took a brief moment to walk up to the Green Monster, kissed my hand, then placed it on the wall for a few seconds. I have watched thousands of games over the years and to be that close to a part of my baseball history, that was really special. I walked and greeted several runners/walkers on my way through the outfield area to the finish line – Home Plate at historic Fenway Park. Somewhere around 50 minutes after I got into line on Jersey Street, I crossed home plate at Fenway Park. A baseball fan since 1972, that is what my business card reads. A Red Sox fan since 1972, who always dreamed of one day playing for The Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park crossed home plate at age 47. I jumped on the plate with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old, I didn’t care who saw it or laughed or whatever. I was so proud to finish this race, for my Dad, for the Veterans I ran with, for the Veterans in the stands at Fenway Park, for the families of Veterans, and for those US Service Men and Women who gave their lives for our country. The emotional few hours of the arrival, the ceremony, the race – it all came down on that plate and I raised my arms in joy.
I found Rachel in the stands and we hugged. She asked me how I felt and I answered in one word “Proud.” This wasn’t a typical race where you jockey for position, cut someone off to get a better spot in the pack, go for your all time best. This was the completion of months of training, fundraising, letting family members know about the event, talking to my Dad about the event, and just making a commitment to do something good for others. I was so proud to raise the money, do the training, do the 5K in a respectable time, high-five the Veterans and military in the event, and just be a part of this great program’s success.
After a few waters, a banana, and a bagel, Rachel and I took some photos around the park. There was a couple there from out of town and they were also taking photos. I mentioned a few other spots inside Fenway that they had to check out. It was a festive atmosphere with people laughing and greeting each other with warm handshakes and enthusiastic high fives. I got a few photos with some new friends I met in the stadium and in front of the statue of my favorite player of all time, Yaz, who I used to watch crash into the Green Monster at Fenway Park and make spectacular plays for my favorite team, The Boston Red Sox.
After the event, I texted my sister, my kids, called my Mom and Dad and told them about the event. I hope to make it a tradition every year now to Run To Home Base and add a new friend, family member, or RI Baseball community member to join me in this event. The physical part, I was ready for. The emotional part, I was not ready for and I am so glad that I experienced that. The emotions of hearing about Veterans struggling to cope with PTSD and other neurological disorders from serving our country with honor was really impactful to me and I will never forget it. I commend every single volunteer, corporate sponsor, event coordinator, the Boston Police Department, Boston Fire Deparment, first responders who made the event run so smoothly and safe for all the participants and their families. And for the Run To Home Base Program administrators, doctors, caregivers – you are doing incredible work and I give you all a standing ovation. Thank you for creating this program and I wish you continued success in your efforts.
If you would like to learn more about the Run To Home Base Program, go to www.homebase.org.