As Bruce Springteen’s “Born to Run” played through the speakers at JetBlue Park on Saturday, January 27, more than 600 runners and walkers charged through the starting line at the second annual Run to Home Base Florida charity race, benefiting Home Base programs in Southwest Florida. The goal? A home plate finish inside the ballpark, which for some runners signified a greater milestone in the “race to heal the invisible wounds”.
For Will Blair III, a U.S. Air Force Veteran and Naples resident, this year’s race marked a poignant milestone in his recovery – and the beginning of a new chapter for him and his family. During the Run to Home Base Florida’s pre-race ceremony, Blair openly discussed his struggles with post-traumatic stress following the suicide of his best friend – and fellow Veteran – nearly 3 years ago. The post-service death and the effects on his mental health were what he says led him to Home Base.
“The help and support that I received from Home Base back in 2014 gave me the motivation to push through planning my best friend’s funeral, and helping his three kids deal with the sudden loss of their father.”
Blair credits the friendships and camaraderie fostered by the Warrior Health & Fitness Program as his saving grace “As I kept the tide with Home Base, the bonds started to get stronger and I started to see that I didn’t want to become a statistic – I didn’t want to become one of the 22,” Blair said. “Once I was able to grasp myself and see where my life was headed, I picked up the phone and told Armando [Home Base Southwest Florida’s Program Director] that is was finally my turn. I needed to take the next steps needed to fully heal.”
That path led him to Home Base’s 2-week Intensive Clinical Program (ICP) based out of Boston, MA, which is made possible through a groundbreaking collaboration with the Wounded Warrior Project’s Warrior Care Network. In the ICP, transportation, lodging, meals, and treatment are fully covered. Close to a years’ worth of therapy is provided in two-weeks’ time, allowing Veterans to be put on a path to lifelong healing.
“When you walk into a room full of Veterans who have been through what you have been through, you see the emotion and the hurt that they feel in their eyes – that stare you recognize in yourself,” recalled Blair. “But as went through the two weeks together, you could see the transition in everyone – we all opened up and we were finally able to get to say ‘we’re good’. We knew Home Base ‘had our six’ and it was up to us take the ‘front 12’ to move forward with the tools and grasp all of the Veterans that are going through difficult stages in their lives and reassure them ‘we’ve got your 6’.”
During the two weeks in Boston, Blair immersed himself in both the evidence-based treatments and complementary alternative medicine and came home two weeks later with strategies for coping with his symptoms of post-traumatic stress. A change he says has enabled him to further immerse himself in Home Base’s Warrior Health and Fitness program back at home excel. One of his great accomplishments since coming back to Florida from the ICP? Maintaining a 3.65 GPA at school; Blair is set to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management this May.
But it’s stories like Blair’s – and fellow runners – that continue to mold the spirit that is so unique to the Run to Home Base Florida.As Home Base Honorary Director, 4-Star General (ret.) Fred Franks cited in his opening remarks,”When our brave men and women volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces, there is an implied trust that the rest of America will be there for them when their service is complete. Home Base is the fulfillment of that trust.”
For Runner and Deputy Kyle Kmetetz of the Lee County Sherrif’s Office is was that sense of community and trust he felt from the Southwest Community that after his service in the U.S. Army, that inspired him to serve other Veterans in the community. Kmetetz served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the 2018 Run to Home Base Florida was Kmetetz’s first race since sustaining an injury that caused major equilibrium issues, making keeping his balance a big obstacle. “I’ve always been a runner and it took about a year’s worth of rehab to do physical things again,” Kmetetz said. “The Run to Home Base Florida was on my list of things to do and it was a great cause to do it for.”
Jeff Gordish and his wife Cindy, of Fort Myers, echoed that sentiment.
“I saw the race online,” Gordish said, “and I thought, ‘What a great cause and what a great way to start your day!’ “It’s giving back a little for all the things that our Veterans and Service Members do.”
Thank to the support of this year’s sponsors and overall participation, the 2018 Run to Home Base Florida raised more than $65,000 for Home Base’s programs in Southwest Florida. Programs that continue to grow, and change the lives of those who are looking for hope.
To learn more about the 2019 Run to Home Base Florida, contact Home Base’s Director of Development, Steve Monaco at firstname.lastname@example.org.