Shepherd's Men Finish 911-Mile Run to Benefit SHARE Military Initiative
Military service members, veterans and a civilian run from NYC to Atlanta in eight days to raise money and awareness for Shepherd Center's rehabilitation program for military service members.
Thirteen men with a heart for helping U.S. military service members wounded in post-9/11 conflicts joyously completed a 911-mile, eight-day trek from New York City to Shepherd Center on Sunday afternoon. A large crowd gathered along Peachtree Road to welcome them with cheers and applause as a police escort led the way into a celebration in the Mavis Pruet Leslie Memorial Garden and Woodruff Family Residence Center at Shepherd Center.
The group of runners, called Shepherd's Men, is made up of military service members, veterans and a civilian. They have raised awareness and more than $200,000 of their $250,000 goal to fund two months of comprehensive rehabilitation care in Shepherd Center's SHARE Military Initiative. The 12-week program provides treatment to U.S. military service members who have sustained mild traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generous donors have supported SHARE since it was established in 2008 with an initial gift from The Macus Foundation founded by philanthropist Bernie Marcus. Since it opened, SHARE has treated more than 300 clients at no cost to the service members and their families.
Shepherd's Men, which includes military service members, veterans and civilians, ran last spring from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., to raise money for SHARE. They kicked off this year's run on April 19 from One World Trade Center in New York City. As they made their way to Atlanta, they stopped in many cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Lynchburg, Va., Gastonia, N.C., and Athens, Ga., to raise awareness for the struggles faced by military service members returning from war with brain injuries and PTSD. As each runner ran his daily 11- to 14-mile leg of the relay, they wore 22-pound flak jackets with SAPI plates – just like military service members wear in combat.
"The 22 pounds represents the number of veterans per day who commit suicide," said Shepherd's Men organizer Travis Ellis, a civilian from Senoia, Ga., noting that no SHARE clients have taken their own lives. "Last year, when we ran, that number was the same. We will keep running until that number goes down."
Shepherd's Men participant Jarrad Turner, a U.S. Army veteran and former SHARE client, said the Shepherd Center program saved his life. Orignally from New York, Turner said it was the terrorist attack on 9/11 that inspired him to enlist.
“Running with Shepherd’s Men replaced some bad memories for me, and it was a way to say, ‘I made it in spite of all I’ve been through,’” Turner said. “It was a way to give me closure…. I hope my actions will do what Shepherd’s Men has done for me: It inspired me and I want to inspire others. It’s good to know that people still care, but we still have a lot of work to do to help our veterans.”
Shepherd's Men also raised money along the way and received corporate support from HD Supply, Mizuno, Superior Plumbing and Verizon Wireless, among others. Verizon headquarters employees in Basking Ridge, N.J., hosted Shepherd's Men at a reception along their trek and even ran with them through the company's campus. Other supporters, including some with HD Supply and Mizuno, ran the last 5K with Shepherd's Men on Sunday, and still others were on hand to provide food and water when the runners arrived. Shepherd Center's Peach Corps, a family-oriented volunteer group, cooked and served burgers and hot dogs to the crowd, which included current Shepherd Center patients and their families.
Shepherd Center CEO and President Gary Ulicny, Ph.D., called Sunday's event a celebration of America. He thanked the Shepherd's Men runners for their tremendous effort to raise money and awareness. He called their trek and Sunday's celebration of it one of the most meaningful things he's seen in his 22 years as CEO.
This year's Shepherd's Men fundraising campaign will conclude on May 27 with a concert and live auction at The Strand theater in Marietta, Ga. The auction will raise additional funds for SHARE. The event is open to anyone who wants to support SHARE Military Initiative. For more information, visit shepherdsmen.com.
For more information about the SHARE Military Initiative, click here.
Written by Jane M. Sanders
Photos and Video by Louie Favorite, Tracy J. Smith and Jane M. Sanders
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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 neurological 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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.