Cheers filled JetBlue Park on January 28 as more than 500 runners and walkers made their triumphant “home base” photo finish at the 1st annual Run to Home Base Florida presented by Florida Community Bank. The event – a first of its kind in Southwest Florida – raised more than $120K for Home Base’s efforts in the area and called attention to the invisible wound affecting one-in-three Post-9/11 Veterans.
The event kicked off with a helicopter flyover and Presentation of Colors by the Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office, and included opening remarks by Home Base Executive Director Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond, Home Base Honorary Director Army Four-Star General (ret.) Frederick M. Franks Jr., and Home Base Southwest Florida Program Manager Armando Hernandez.
Home Base Warrior Health and Fitness Program alumnus and former Marine Karter Elliot, also spoke about his own reintegration issues, and how his road led to Home Base, “When I got home [from overseas], it took some time for me and my family to figure out why I felt so out of place, why things weren’t feeling whole, or triumphant like we would’ve hoped,” said Elliot. What started out to be a way for him to lose weight and get back in to shape, ended up becoming something more, “Some of the longer lasting impacts I didn’t expect happening were the bonds I created and sense of camaraderie that I had missed [from serving in the military]. It all came back.”
Proceeds from the event enable Southwest Florida Post-9/11 Veterans, like Elliot, to participate in the Southwest Florida Warrior Health and Fitness program, a six-month wellness program presented in collaboration with Florida Gulf Coast University.
Funds also enable local Veterans to attend Home Base’s two-week Intensive Clinical Program in Boston with treatment, meals, transportation and lodging at no cost. Piloted in 2015 and officially launched in early 2016, the ICP is providing impressive outcomes for those suffering from invisible wounds of war—folks who may not have access to this level of healing in their own hometowns, or, have the time to attend weekly appointments.
Sarah Cox is one of the 16 Florida Veterans who have taken part in Home Base’s ICP. Sarah’s mom participated in the Run to Home Base in Boston back in 2010 – before Sarah knew Home Base’s programs were for her. That is, until the summer of 2016, when she sought care through Home Base’s ICP and brought her father – a Marine Veteran to help her along the process. She says crossing “home plate”, with her family by her side, at the Run to Home Base Florida is a sweet, sweet victory. “As a Veteran, to get over the fear of feeling shame and blame and guilt – you have to ask for help, and Home Base is that program that helped me overcome, and now I am closing this chapter in my book with my support system beside me.”
Many of the runners and walkers at the event carried with them similar stories of wounded loved ones, like Will Ortiz, who showed up to the race in combat boots, a gas mask and a weighted vest running outfit, “The mask covers my face to honor those who can no longer breath,” said Ortiz, 31, a Cape Coral resident and retired Marine who served in Iraq. “And the vest symbolizes their struggle. I’m trying to spread awareness of the issues that many veterans go through and honor my fallen brothers. I run because they can’t.”
To see photos from the 2017 Run to Home Base Florida presented by Florida Community Bank, please click here.