CONCORD — Tyler Huhn crossed the Tough Ruck finish line to resounding cheers Saturday afternoon at the old Concord Battleground, where he received the first Boston Marathon medal of 2016.
The rucksack on Huhn’s back indicated why he was crossing the finish line after a 26.2-mile trek in Concord on Saturday instead of in Boston on Monday. The Tough Ruckers run, jog, or walk with a rucksack weighing a minimum of 30 pounds to raise funds and awareness for the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen, law enforcement officials, and first responders. They do their course ahead of the main Marathon for security reasons.
“They gave everything,” said Huhn, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet with the Army and a student at West Chester University, who completed the trek in about five hours 19 minutes with the names “PFC Michael DeMarsico II” and “SGT Gregory Belanger” written on gold ribbons pinned to his rucksack.
Comparatively, “me ‘suffering’ for a mere 26.2 miles isn’t too bad,” said Huhn, still wearing his rucksack after he completed the course.
The event drew more than 600 ruckers, civilians as well as service members. Many ruckers, like Huhn, did not know the people whose names were pinned to their rucksacks but mourned their loss nevertheless.
The Tough Ruckers used to carry their rucksacks in the main Boston Marathon alongside other runners. But after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, security concerns about the rucksacks prompted the Boston Athletic Association to set up a separate Tough Ruck course with the start and finish lines in Concord.
The rucksacks are “symbolic of carrying their fallen comrades,” said Sarah Sweeney, executive director of the Military Friends Foundation and wife of an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.
The event is expected to raise more than $170,000 toward supporting military members and their families, including the Military Friends Foundation and the Arredondo Family Foundation, said Sweeney.
Carlos Arredondo lost his two children, one of whom was a Marine.
Arredondo’s oldest son, Alexander, a Marine lance corporal, was killed at age 20 by an enemy sniper during his second tour in Iraq. His younger son, Brian, committed suicide in 2011, when he was 24, in no small part due to the trauma of losing his brother, said Arredondo.
But the two badges he wore pinned to his red Tough Ruck sweat shirt showed the names and photos of sons that were not his own.
“The beauty of being together is that we grieve together,” said Arredondo. “By wearing somebody else’s buttons, for me, it’s sharing the other sons’ love with each other.”
Much of Arredondo’s story is familiar to Bostonians. He and his wife, Mélida Arredondo, were at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, greeting the Tough Ruckers — there were only 15 three years ago, he said — who had gathered in Hopkinton at 4:15 a.m. and journeyed into the city. When the bombs went off, he helped knock down barriers so first responders could reach victims and assisted survivors himself.
Arredondo described suicide among military members as an epidemic affecting surviving family members, too, as in the case of his younger son.
Accordingly, the Arredondo Family Foundation aims to provide emergency funds for funeral expenses to military family members who have experienced a suicide, as well as general resources with a particular focus on providing support for siblings, he said.
“The siblings are always left behind,” he said, wearing a cowboy hat like the one that became famous after photos showed Arredondo helping the badly injured Jeff Bauman who lost his legs in the bombings.
Bauman spoke at the kickoff of the Tough Ruck event and expressed his appreciation of the community coming together, said Arredondo proudly.
“Jeff [Bauman] came here to make sure that we know that he is very grateful for the work that Tough Ruck does and did that day,” said Arredondo.
The crowd of spectators included many “Gold Star families” who had lost a relative who had served in the military.
“The Ruck is hard but it never comes close to the ultimate sacrifice they gave,” said Army Reserve Specialist Adonis Carrasco, 23, of Westford.
He completed the Tough Ruck at around six hours 10 minutes, with the names “Staff Sgt. Rolsing” and “Patrolman L. Gorman” on ribbons pinned to his 45-pound rucksack.Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.