WORCESTER – Hand in hand, a cheering crowd encouraging them, they ran through an inflated arch in the driveway at Why Me & Sherry’s House.
Under the blue skies of Sunday afternoon, medals were placed around their necks.
It was the emotional end of a 4-day, 100-mile ruck during which Spencer’s Jason Monette, the vice chairman of the regional school committee, Jeff Savageau, school committee member, Jay Sauvageau were among a field of 50 ruckers who endured scorching heat, torrential downpours, vivid lightning, shin splints, blisters, and aches and pains.
All of those things were “small potatoes,” Sauvageau said, when one considered just who they were walking for.
Why Me & Sherry’s House Executive Director Rebecca Kuczarski said the ruck has become one of the biggest fundraisers, allowing the organization to continue its mission of helping families experiencing childhood cancers.
Her daughter, Sophia Kuczarski, died in 2012 from leukemia. Sophia was 4 years old and Kuczarski said her work at Why Me & Sherry’s House is done in her daughter’s memory.
The organization provides a place for families to stay during treatment, assists with financial hardships, provides support for grieving families, and bolsters inpatient children’s spirits with visits and special treats.
Remembering how her family carried a burden during Sophia’s battle, the ruck seems especially symbolic, Kuczarski said.
“They have to carry everything they need for four days in that sack: clothing, tents, food, medical equipment … there’s a similarity to the load carried by these families,” she said.
And while the road for the ruckers was long and the packs were weighty, it was a small gesture for the children, Sauvageau said.
“Compared to what these kids go through, yeah, it’s small potatoes,” Sauvageau said, still grinning over the accomplishment and icing his sore legs.
“All along the way we talked about Why Me & Sherry’s House and what they do. If you don’t know, it’s amazing and we’ll always be a part of this,” he said. “It’s something that lives in you.”
For Monette, there were tears as he and Sauvage embraced after running down Pleasant Street to the finish. Monette’s son doused his father’s head with water after planting a kiss on his cheek.
Monette said the men trained hard for the event all the while giving thanks that the children in their families are healthy. He said he enjoyed the treks through the woods the most.
“It was nice, softer on your feet,” he said, adding that the days spent mostly on asphalt were tough.
Both men said they’d encourage anyone to train and try the ruck at least once. They were disappointed and concerned that their friend, Mike Ethier, Chair of the DPHS Building Committee, fell ill after the first day and was still hospitalized on Sunday when they finished.
Melanie Ethier greeted them at the finish and said her husband is expected to recover after becoming severely dehydrated.
The first finisher was Sam Smith, a 2007 Doherty High School graduate who now lives in Los Angeles and splits his time between a solar company and his charity, Water Warrior Foundation, which helps provide clean water in developing nations.
He’s completed many physically challenging fundraisers and said the 100-mile ruck is among the toughest but well worth the help it brings to children in need. He lives by his charity’s motto, “Do hard things with the people you love for a cause greater than yourself.”
A big part of the ruck is the memories made, and Monette and Sauvageau had a few to share.
On Friday, they saw reports indicating bad weather might be headed their way. They got an early start after their night camping at Milk Room Brewery in Rutland and kept a quicker pace hoping to beat the storms. They arrived in Barre at Stone Cow Brewery before the tornado warning – not just a watch – was issued and set up their tents.
The storms were severe, causing flooding and putting on a lightning show so impressive the brewery’s owners invited the ruckers to sleep inside – but Monette and Sauvageau had set up outside and went to their tents. The storm-cooled air allowed them to have their best night’s sleep, Savaugeau said.
The next day, as they headed to Oakholm Brewery in Brookfield, they were presented with tags for their packs that read, “Camping is in-tents.”
Sauvageau said his brother Jeff Sauvageau, who serves on the School Committee, slept inside and will never live it down.
The event, which was started by Rick Porter of Cinch IT three years ago, relies on dozens of volunteers.
Casey and Jamie Cormier of Spencer volunteered at the event and their Margaritaville aid station won the “best stop” award. In addition to the Spencer-East Brookfield ruckers, there were Dan and Erin Giza, also David Prouty High School graduates who live nearby and staff one of the pit stops along the way. They were awarded “Best Pit Stop” after setting up a pirate-themed watering hole complete with a plank the ruckers had to walk.
Nurses, many who’d cared for children from Why Me & Sherry’s House, volunteered to bandage damaged feet, ice aching knees and shins and keep an eye out for potential medical problems while others set up various aspects of the ruck.
There were 50 children, 8-18 years old, who took part in a mini-ruck at 7 Saws Brewery in Holden on Saturday, testing themselves to see how many 1-mile laps they could complete on a course in 4 hours. One of the children did 14 miles in that time and the group raised $30,000.
In the end, Kuczarski said she expects the ruck will bring in about $250,000 this year and that will go a long way.
While they were still soaking their feet and enjoying celebratory Big Macs, Monette said he didn’t think he’d do the ruck again, though he’ll likely volunteer in some other capacity.
But Sauvageau said his friend told him the same thing last year and they both came back for a second ruck … so anything is possible.