As the final people finished the Run for the Troops road race on Sunday, Andover’s Jay French was marveling at the number of people who turned out for the event created by fellow resident Bill Pennington. Back in 2008, French noted, French struggled to pull off a successful dinner to support Homes for Our Troops.
“What I love about it is, in a town where we don’t have a Homes for Our Troops project, it has dedicated itself to producing one, and supporting Homes for Our Troops,” said French.
The Run for the Troops has become a great event, and a great Andover community event. But a real feel for the meaning of the race could be found at the related dinner the Friday before the race, also organized by Pennington.
During the dinner, Debbie Smith, whose husband Joe Smith of North Carolina was the face of the 2011 Run for the Troops in Andover, told the crowd just how much the effort means to injured veterans.
“Joe never had a visitor in the hospital for four years (after he was injured). He thought that nobody cared,” she said.
On race day, he and everyone present know just how much people do care. The Smiths look forward to coming to the race and dinner each year.
The support in Andover was clear to Marine Sgt. Josh Bouchard, who was the honoree for the 2012 race.
“In my mind, I still don’t expect turnouts like this. I felt like I was alone when I was injured,” said Bouchard. “To be able to cook my own food, wash my own clothes is life-changing. I didn’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this house. I’m not just missing a leg, I’m paraplegic.”
Contractor A.J. Crane who whipped together Bouchard’s house and grounds in a matter of days with the help of many volunteers has also worked on one of TV’s Extreme Makeover homes.