Group Planning Run from NYC to Atlanta to Raise Funds for SHARE Military Initiative
In May 2014, nine men – calling themselves Shepherd’s Men – ran 684 miles from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. The week-long trek covered roughly 100 miles daily – and had each man running an average of 14 miles a day. Along the way, the group raised awareness and funds – $130,000 to be exact – for Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative.
How does a group of highly focused, determined men top that?
By doing it again – this year, with loftier goals.
The group’s 13 men will leave on April 19 from the Ground Zero fountains by the Freedom Tower in New York City and run 911 miles over eight days, arriving at Shepherd Center on April 26.
Not only have they added nearly 300 miles, they are almost doubling their fundraising goal to $250,000. And when each man runs his daily 11- to 14-mile leg, he’ll be wearing a 22-pound flak jacket with sapi plates – just like military service members wear in combat.
“We’re doing this to represent the heavy burden experienced by many of the service men and women returning from combat,” says Travis Ellis, the only civilian in Shepherd's Men. “SHARE lifts that burden. Symbolically, it is our way to shoulder some of that for our returning heroes.
Shepherd’s SHARE (Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence) Military Initiative is a comprehensive outpatient program that extends Shepherd’s continuum of care to U.S. service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan post 9-11. The specialized rehabilitation program helps military personnel who have sustained mild traumatic brain injury and may have significant physical, behavioral and cognitive impairments as a result.
Established through a generous 2008 donation from Atlanta philanthropist Bernie Marcus, the SHARE Military Initiative is sustained through private contributions and is provided at no cost to service members. Shepherd Center must raise $1.2 million per year to operate the program.
“We take a holistic, individualized treatment approach,” says Jackie Breitenstein, clinical manager of SHARE. We look at their goals and see what is slowing them down. Then we use that information to guide their treatment.”
Ellis acknowledges that raising $250,000 is an ambitious goal. “The money we raised last year helped, but unfortunately the population in need of care remains large so we felt obligated to do more, give more of ourselves,” he says. “If we meet our goal, we can fully fund this lifesaving program for two full months.”
One of the new runners this year – Jarrad Turner, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant and combat medic – is living proof of the lifesaving effects of SHARE. He was in his second tour of duty in Iraq when he sustained head, shoulder and elbow injuries in a mortar attack in 2006. Multiple surgeries fixed his physical injuries, but he still experienced pain, anxiety, flashbacks and bouts of anger, most of which kept him up at night and affected his job. After several frustrating visits to doctors who could find nothing wrong with him, he was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was referred to SHARE.
“SHARE is designed so you have all the services you need in one facility,” says Turner, who is now studying to become a physician’s assistant. “I truly benefitted from that.”
Turner is now focused on his role with Shepherd’s Men. The runners have a rigorous training routine that incorporates running, swimming and weight lifting. They train for several hours a day, five to six days a week. During the trek, they will cover 130 miles a day, and when not running, team members will travel the route in a recreational vehicle. At stops along the way, the group hopes to speak to audiences – such as Rotary clubs, VFWs and armory posts – about SHARE.
“We had so much support last year,” says U.S. Marines First Sergeant Justin Ezell, who completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. “Doing it again is an opportunity to raise more money and more awareness for a program that helps warriors in need. As a Marine, it’s comforting for me to know there is a program like this.”
“This is a phenomenal group,” Breitenstein adds. “They are taking care of their brothers and sisters. They are an inspiration not only to SHARE clients, but to the staff, as well.”
For Turner, it’s a chance to give back to a program that saved his life and can help save the lives of his fellow service members, a group that is near and dear to him. “Just because I don’t wear the uniform anymore doesn’t mean I don’t care for my brothers and sisters in arms,” he says. “I will always wear that uniform in my heart.”
For more on Shepherd's Men, visit their website at ShepherdsMen.com.
In the media
Written by Sara Baxter
Photos and Video by Louie Favorite
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.