As is the case with many things in life, my connection with and feeling toward the Memorial Day holiday have evolved over the course of "growing up." With my birthday at the end of May, as a little girl I fell under the false assumption that the big Memorial Day picnic my aunt and uncle threw every year in Williamstown was my personal birthday party. Growing a bit older, I realized that the entire nation in fact did not celebrate my birthday, and instead Memorial Day became the perfect three-day weekend to compete in soccer tournaments throughout the region with my Pittsfield Panthers and Berkshire AJAX club soccer teams.
It was not until my husband, Sam Russo, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 that I began to truly appreciate Memorial Day for its intended purpose -- to honor those who sacrificed their lives in defense of our nation. The realization that the Memorial Day holiday means much more than picnics and soccer tournaments compelled me to do more to actively acknowledge the lives of those sacrificed in duty to our country.
In 2011, with a second Afghanistan deployment under his belt, Sam and I searched for a way to reconcile the tragic loss of several friends in battle, and we discovered the Memorial Day Races in Lenox. In two ways this race event provides us with a rewarding outlet to actively honor the memory of those lost. We personally honor their memory through our physical effort, dedicating the run in their name, and we contribute to the financial support of groups addressing the needs of other veterans and communities struggling with their own war losses.
Race Director Matt Linick has incorporated a strong commitment both to the Berkshires and to charitable giving through the race. Not only does Matt donate portions of the proceeds of the weekend’s events to veterans’ groups, but he has also incorporated the ability for race participants to engage in their own fundraising. Race benefactors include the "Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF)", "Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB)" and local organization Soldier On.
In our first year, Sam and I raised nearly $10,000 for the IFH. The following year, with the help of some friends, our fund-raising group raised more than $37,000 for the IFHF. In 2013, we raised nearly $20,000 for the race’s new charity partner, Team RWB. This year, we are again on track to raise several more thousands of dollars for Team RWB through the MDR CrowdRise function. Impressively, these figures are only part of the overall amount donated to these groups through MDR, as additional dollars are donated by Matt, collected through each racer’s registration fee.
Last year, runners were attracted to the Berkshires from 32 different states and four different countries to participate in the MDR. The positives we glean from MDR transcends ourselves, extending to the benefactors and members of the organizations for whom we raise funds -- wounded warriors, veterans struggling with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, families coping with the effects of losing loved ones, veterans grappling with the challenges of post-service civilian transitions and many others.
Although Memorial Day certainly is a great time to enjoy picnics, weekend getaways, sporting events, and other celebrations, it is also a meaningful time for reflection and gratitude. Whether you find that through an experience like the Memorial Day Races, or one of your own, I encourage you to revisit the original sentiment behind Memorial Day this weekend.
Caroline Holland Russo also lives in Alexandria, Va.
Today is the trail race and tomorrow there are four races, a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon. All the weekend races end at Tanglewood. For more information, go to www.memorialdaymarathon.com