Saturday’s Carry The Fallen event was an incredibly moving, emotional day that will be difficult to put into words, but I will try my best. Readers of this blog know I also tend to forget a lot of details, but I’m going to do my best. Special credit for photos and videos go to: Gene Kim, Wendy McNaughton, Amy Parulis, David Kamm, Mary Khoury-Whitelaw, Stephanie Santucci and Christine Dion. Very few of them are mine or Tara’s photos. Thank you for allowing me to share your powerful images.
I tried to get to bed by 8pm Friday night, but that just wasn’t in the cards. A few of us met up for dinner to carb load and we ended up getting home around 7:30. That’s not bad, but I still had to drop something off at a friend’s house and then get my ruck situated so I wouldn’t be stressing in the morning. I think I ended up in bed around 9ish, got up at 1am to chug some water and slept until 2 am when my alarm went off.
My plan was to leave around 3:15 to start picking people up, but I ended up running about 10 minutes behind. I had a stop to pick up Stephanie first and then Amy and Corrine after that and all drive to Hopkinton, to the start, together. We stayed mostly on schedule and still made it to the start just after 5am.
Once everyone started showing up at that time, we lined up to check in. We had to sign in, write down an emergency contact and were assigned numbered index cards with another emergency contact # on the back of it. This took some time with so many people there, so we got a little behind schedule. I think we had somewhere around 65 people total. While we were signing in, I was talking to some friends and all of a sudden, Tara appeared as if from nowhere! She decided to surprise me and come cheer us on. She saw us off at the start and then told me she would be at set mile markers along the route to help us out. She packed her hatchback full of bananas, water, Gatorade, chips, homemade cookies, etc that the team happily devoured. It was a HUGE morale boost each time we saw her.
After everybody checked in, we had a small opening ceremony. One of our leaders, Justin Fitch, gave us a rundown of what to expect and the rules of the road. We then listened to the National Anthem, sung by a very talented woman who had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then I basically had to hold back the tears as Justin took a knee, saying he was the “first veteran to kill themselves today”. This was followed by 21 more people taking a knee and proclaiming the numbered veteran they were to take their life that day. It was incredibly profound and sad.
Shortly after, we were lined up and checked to make sure we had something to keep us reflective, dry, warm, fed and plenty of water. Everybody was good to go, so we started somewhere around 6:30am. This is where details will be slightly hazy as we walked the 26.2 miles to the finish line.
We were initially lined up in two lines and told to stick together in pairs side by side as we walked. This mostly worked, but dissolved here and there. The fun part was that you always ended up around people you didn’t know. It was nice getting to know some of our fellow ruckers as we walked. One guy, Chris, actually brought a Bluetooth speaker and played Pandora on his phone. We had a ball singing to 80s hair bands as we walked. He was one, of many, fantastic motivators.
I think we made a few more stops than were planned. We stopped at a Honey Dew to let people use the restroom, as well as a Dunkin Donuts. I have to say it was an awesome Dunkin. While everyone was lined up waiting to use the restrooms, the manager brought out little baggies with a couple of munchkins in them to pass out to everyone in line. It was a nice gesture and a great little pick-me-up.
Mile 10 was our long break at the Natick VFW. We took some time to take care of our feet. Tara met us there as one of her many stops and brought my foam rollers, tennis balls, stretch out strap, etc so we could all take care of knots. As if people weren’t already in love with her for the food! At this point I changed my socks and put on some more trail toes, but had already started feeling my blisters around mile 8 so I might have been a little late to the game. I rolled out, stretched, had some food and then shortly after there was a ceremony in front of the memorial.
This was an incredibly poignant ceremony and many tears were shed. After a moment of silence, we heard from Justin, who is battling stage 4 cancer but spends all his time working to help other Vets. We heard from Earl, a Vet who was the sole survivor of an IED explosion. He lost his leg and later, his twin brother due to PTSD. He now carries a cinderblock affectionately named Cindy at his events. We heard from Beverly, a mother who lost her son to PTSD and works tirelessly to try to stop it from happening to others. We heard from Jay, another Vet who rucks these events in his wheelchair the entire way after a parachute training failure cost him the use of his legs and a TBI that altered his sight to a mere 6 ft wide and 100 ft long. We heard from Steven, who read a touching letter from a family member of Anthony Lembo, a former Navy SEAL. We also heard from Heather, who runs and rucks her events for the fallen all over New England. She works tirelessly to make sure these men and women are not forgotten.
Once we had all dried our tears, it was time to ruck up again. I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes to Tara and we all lined up to head out again. I feel as though the group was a lot quieter when we left the VFW, many lost in thought. We eventually got a second wind and everybody perked up again. It also helps to have Justin riding alongside in the support RV playing the poem Boots over the megaphone. A little Bon Jovi never hurts either! Justin was such an inspiring leader, always making sure we were smiling and had no “poopy faces” and even handing out lollipops as we walked.
As we inched closer, step by step, we made another pit stop at a Whole Foods. They were kind enough to donate some bananas and bottles of water for us and let us use their facilities. We even had some nice chairs and tables to use outside on their patio. I took advantage of this long-ish break to put more trail toes on, but at this point it may have been in vain. My hips were starting to tighten as well as the back of my knees, but there was no way I was taking a break or not finishing – it was never going to be an option.
It was just starting to get dusky out when we hit the Newton fire station, so we all put on our head lamps and reflective gear to make sure we’d be seen. Much of the remainder of the route we were given police escorts as well, so that made us feel safe. We probably had escorts help us out on 75% of the route from town to town which was comforting. We did get quite a few “stank faces”, as Corrine called them, from the drivers having to wait for us to cross intersections. Oh well!
Once darkness hit, I struggled a bit more personally. It felt like the last miles were hell. When we were at the fire station, they had a sign that said they were at mile 17.3 of the marathon – this meant we still had a ways to go to hit 26.2, including the famous Heartbreak Hill. My blisters felt as if each step I took was on razor blades. My hips had long since given up on me and I had a constant forward tilt and couldn’t walk without limping, no matter how hard I tried, even though I knew it was going to mess me up.
When I packed my ruck, I asked Tara to give me something of her brother’s to wear or carry with me. She gave me his boot camp picture, with a pin attached to it. She told me the pin was the one she wore every day after he was deployed and then after he was shot in Iraq, she put it on his picture and it hasn’t moved since. I pinned it to the arm of my ruck so when I was having a tough time, I’d reach up and give him a tap and remind myself of his and other Veterans struggles and that I needed to suck it up and keep going for them.
In the last miles, it felt like we just walked and walked and walked. Once we started getting into the city, the RV kept pretty close to us. They played more music over the megaphone and we all sang along to Proud To Be An American and Sweet Caroline as we walked. More Dum Dums were passed out. It was a big boost when people would ask us what we were walking for and we enjoyed telling them about it and handing out brochures. I’ve heard from someone else that even a few people joined in walking with us.
The single most amazing moment for me was at the end, as we turned onto Boylston St. We had been joined by a couple of motorcycle police escorts a little while before and they went ahead of us as we turned onto the street to clear it out for us to get to the finish line. It was incredible watching the cars part for us to walk through, all 4 lanes of traffic packed, the streets lined with people. Eventually, I noticed that it was just our road. No more cars. No more traffic. Just our group, walking proudly, chanting “One Team! One Fight! We Carry The Fallen!”.
When we finally crossed that finish line, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I immediately jumped in an open spot to get my chance to kiss the finish line.
Afterwards, we gathered on the sidewalk and were handed our patches and some cake. It was Justin and Jay’s last CTF with Team Minuteman as they are both moving away so it was very emotional for a lot of people. I’m lucky that I was able to do one with these amazing men before they left. It was truly a privilege.
The whole experience was amazing and, as much pain as I’m still in days later, it’s all worth it to walk for those that can’t. I think I will probably be doing this again in the near future and highly recommend people join us. Even if you can’t walk or donate, check in on your Vets, even if it means asking “Hey dumbass, you feeling sad?”, as it was so eloquently put by Earl. Speak their language. Just talk to them.
Here are a couple of videos – one from the perspective of a rucker, one from a photographer. It captures the most intense part of our journey perfectly.