By Dustin Luca
---- — When the starting gun fires and the runners start in April’s Run for the Troops, a five-kilometer run/walk, every foot hitting the asphalt will be helping to build a specially adapted home for a disabled Marine.
More than 2,000 runners are expected to turn out for the Run for the Troops on Sunday, April 7.
The Andover race, paired with a dinner event being scheduled for Friday, April 5 (see story, page S4), benefits Homes for Our Troops, a non-profit national organization that builds homes for veterans injured while serving our country.
This is the fourth year for the Run for the Troops in Andover. After paying for the events, money raised by the race and dinner this year will go towards building a home for Marine Cpl. Kevin Dubois, who was injured in 2011 while clearing a helicopter landing zone in Afghanistan (see story, page 3).
The events last year helped build a home for Marine Sgt. Josh Bouchard, who moved into his new home in Granby, Mass. this past January, according to event co-organizer Bill Pennington. The year before, the events supported Army Sgt. Joseph Smith and his new home in Thomasville, N.C.
But for Pennington, it isn’t about bringing in dollars for domiciles. It’s more about building memories and morale than anything, he said.
“How do you put a price-tag on when Josh Bouchard’s mother comes off the bus and sees what’s being done for her son?” Pennington said. “We hope to create these memories for the next Josh Bouchard, for Kevin, when his wife comes up to see what the Merrimack Valley is doing for her husband.”
“If we raised no money, and I saw and felt the gratitude from the soldiers... done deal,” he said. “I’d continue to do it.”
A number of businesses from around the state have already signed up entire teams of employees to come to Andover on race day and run for the cause.
One of them is Agility Orthopedics, based in Stoneham. As of last week, they had 18 employees pledged to run, including two with personal reasons for participating. Two of their physicians were orthopedic surgeons in the U.S. Army, according to company Executive Director Ron Chorzewski.
“The cause strikes really close to home for both of them, and everybody else in the organization,” he said. “It’s really an excellent opportunity for us to, one, improve awareness for our returning troops and the sacrifices they’ve made and, two, to provide some financial help to the folks coming back injured.”
Most of the people who help organize the race are volunteers, Pennington said. A lot of the money raised by the run and walk ends up going towards the shirts, medals and other materials, so beyond the emotional impact the event has on the veterans, only a portion of each race entry benefits the cause.
But “the incremental benefit of giving a little bit when you add it all together gives somebody a brand new house that’s adapted to them, and it speaks directly to what we do,” Chorzewski said. “Our motto is, ‘Keeping You Moving,’ and that’s what these people are allowed to do on their own.”
The race begins near the Andover Townsman building at 33 Chestnut St., and it ends in front of the Andover Town Offices at 36 Bartlet St. Custom-printed, camouflage shirts will be available to the first 1,500 runners, and medals will be handed out to the first 2,000 to finish the race, according to Pennington.
Registration is $20 for those registered by March 31, and $25 beginning April 1. Race-day registration and number pickup start at 7:30 a.m. at the Park at the corner of Chestnut and Bartlet streets in Andover.
To register, visit runforthetroops5k.com.