Shepherd's Men Run Miles for a Million
Shepherd’s Men are back for another epic run – all to raise funds for Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative.
Just two years ago, James Peterson spent his days in a dim corner of his garage in Daphne, Ala., puffing on cigarettes, one after the other.
The U.S. Army veteran was directionless and depressed. Pain in his legs made it hard to walk. He tried to hold down a job and finish college courses, but he had a hard time focusing on either. His wife, Kateri Peterson, was losing hope that her husband would ever be the same.
Much has changed since those chain-smoking days.
On March 25, James will be part of a 14-member team running 1,300 miles in nine days from Boston to Atlanta, all to raise awareness and funds for the very program that James credits for saving his life – Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative. Each runner will cover 22 kilometers – a distance just over a half-marathon – every day, while wearing a 22-pound military flak jacket.
SHARE, which stands for Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence, is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service men and women who have sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and PTSD from combat in post-9/11 conflicts.
James spent three months at SHARE last year, graduating in May 2015. Both he and his wife say he is a changed man.
“They gave me what I needed to get my life back, such as the tools to problem solve,” James says. “I’m not perfect, but I’m so much better.”
This year marks the third year the team of dedicated men have given up a week of their lives to run for SHARE. The group, calling themselves Shepherd’s Men, started in 2014 with a 684-mile run from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., raising $130,000. Last year, they departed from Engine 10 Firehouse just steps from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and ran 911 miles back to Shepherd Center, raising $280,000.
For the 2016 trek, they’ve added another 400 miles to their run – and set the fundraising goal at a whopping $1 million.
The 22-pound. flak jackets and 22-kilometer daily segments have special relevance.
“There are 22 veteran suicides every day, with over 300,000 of our heroes having been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury,” says Travis Ellis, organizer of Shepherd’s Men and the team’s only civilian. “Those numbers are still very real, and should not be accepted as the status quo. We want everyone to know that in SHARE, there is a lifesaving program that can help.”
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 felt the need to go further, endure more and raise more,” Travis says. “We want to raise awareness, as well as money. The true victory is reaching someone who needs Shepherd Center.”
At stops along the way, the group plans to speak to audiences – such as Rotary clubs, VFWs, American Legion posts and Marine Corps League Detachments – about SHARE.
“There are a lot of men and women who are living the way I did before coming to SHARE,” James says. “I want to show those veterans what Shepherd Center and SHARE can do for them. There’s hope out there. They don’t need to be stuck in their houses or in pain.”
And his wife, Kateri has witnessed James’ transformation firsthand.
“I am so proud,” Kateri says. “He went from sitting in the garage to working out every day to take part in this run. It’s a thrilling, exciting way to raise money for such a great program.”
For more information, visit shepherdsmen.com or to donate to the program, visit shepherd.org/SHARE.
By Sara Baxter
In the media
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.