EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 7, 2013

Another important 'race day' in Andover

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — ANDOVER — About 41/2 months ago, about 10,000 people were in downtown Andover on Thanksgiving morning happy as clams, getting in a run or walk before celebrating the best holiday of the year with their families. Everyone seemed to have an extra bounce in their step.

Well, today, with about 2,000 people in downtown Andover, those same smiles will be on most everyone’s face. But the guess here is there will be an extra two bounces to everyone’s step.

Today’s “Run For The Troops 5K” is for pride. This race is for guys and gals we are deeply indebted to -—our soldiers, particularly our injured ones.

Andover resident Bill Pennington, who happened to be at a meeting when the Feaster Five was conceptualized some quarter-century ago, is at it again as the director. This race (and walk) benefits Homes for Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that builds homes designed for the unique injuries of specific soldiers.

This is the third year for Run for the Troops (www.runforthetroops5k.com). Proceeds from today’s race and dinner on Friday night will go towards building a home for Marine Cpl. Kevin Dubois, who was injured in 2011 while clearing a helicopter landing zone in Afghanistan.

Last year’s race helped build a home for Marine Sgt. Josh Bouchard, who moved into his new home in Granby this past January. The year before, the race supported Army Sgt. Joseph Smith and his new home in Thomasville, N.C.

But for Pennington, it isn’t about bringing in dollars for domiciles. It’s more about building memories and morale than anything, he said.

“How do you put a price-tag on when Josh Bouchard’s mother comes off the bus and sees what’s being done for her son?” Pennington said. “We hope to create these memories for the next Josh Bouchard, for Kevin, when his wife comes up to see what the Merrimack Valley is doing for her husband.

“If we raised no money, and I saw and felt the gratitude from the soldiers ... done deal,” he said. “I’d continue to do it.”

Marine Cpl. Dubois was clearing a helicopter landing area for a medical evacuation on July 31, 2011 and went prone to “get a better shooting position,” he said. With a single movement of his leg onto the pressure plate of a buried explosive device, his life changed forever.

Today he uses a wheelchair, both legs amputated from his hip down. In the two-story Rhode Island home where he lives today, getting around the house is a challenge — impossible, sometimes, without the help of his wife.

In a video for Homes for Our Troops, Dubois said most New England homes “are all two stories, so you’d have to get piggy-back rides up to the second floor. Most of the time, the bedrooms and bathrooms are on the second floor.”

“Transferring into the shower is obviously dangerous,” he said. “I can’t catch myself when I fall... I can, but I risk breaking my arm, and my arms, right now, are all I have got left.”

The Dubois story has touched a nerve in his hometown of Burrellville, R.I., where his home will be built later this year. Nearly 80 people from Burrellville were in Andover for the weekend’s dinner on Friday and race today.

Kudos to Pennington, who has been relentless in promoting the race and supporting the injured soldiers. The Merrimack Valley has helped raise nearly $150,000 in three years for this wonderful cause.

Talk about a feel-good moment? The two Marines that received homes were at the dinner on Friday night.

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown, who is an Army Reserve, will be running the race with his wife Gail. Sen. Brown will also emcee the pre-race festivities, which will begin around 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the start of the race.

If you’re in the area this morning, it would be a nice gesture to not only walk or run 3.1 miles, but do it with — as Pennington says — patriotism, pride and gratitude.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

Last minute entries Distance: 5K Event: Run or walk Fee: $25 Race-day registration and number pickup: 7:30 a.m. at the Park at the corner of Chestnut and Bartlet streets in Andover. Start time: 9 a.m. More info: www.runforthetroops5k.com.