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Kayaker’s 57-mile journey down the Charles River raises thousands for families of first responders

Liam McDermott, 41, of Medway high fives his nephew, Will Habershaw, 1, of Dorchester while McDermott’s sister, Deirdre Habershaw, 36, of Dorchester, watches at the Charles River Esplanade in Boston on Saturday,
Liam McDermott, 41, of Medway high fives his nephew, Will Habershaw, 1, of Dorchester while McDermott’s sister, Deirdre Habershaw, 36, of Dorchester, watches at the Charles River Esplanade in Boston on Saturday, (Nic Antaya/for The Boston Globe)

The wail of bagpipes split the muggy air along the Charles River Saturday afternoon, startling those on the Esplanade as members of the Greater Boston Firefighters Pipes and Drum Band marked the end of a long journey the only way they knew.

Liam McDermott, one of the band’s members, was welcomed ashore at a pier near the Hatch Memorial Shell, disembarking from his kayak for the final time after a two-day, 57-mile trek that raised more than $4,000 for charity.

McDermott left his Medway home early Friday morning, to begin a lengthy kayaking trip down the Charles that he hoped would inspire people to donate to The Hundred Club, a nonprofit that supports the family members of police officers and firefighters killed on the job.

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“For me, as a civilian, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to do something of merit for someone,” said McDermott, 41. “Long after thoughts and prayers are sent when something happens, organizations like [The Hundred Club] exist, so there’s more that people can do than just change their profile picture a little bit.”

The charity and pipes and drum band work in close concert; the band’s purpose is to honor firefighters and members of the armed forces, and often plays at firefighters’ funerals.

“One of the most difficult things about our band is that we hate the thing that we exist for,” McDermott said. “A lot of those times we see people at their worst, try to bring something to them.”

McDermott’s journey, though, was a far more joyous occasion.

The band has done a lot for him, he said, and he knew he wanted to give back somehow. McDermott had always thought about kayaking down the Charles, but the idea of combining it with a charitable cause was conceived almost on a whim, with a friend betting him that he couldn’t complete the journey.

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After six weeks of training, the novice kayaker gave it a shot.

“There were definitely parts that were difficult,” McDermott admitted. “Getting through the storms yesterday gave me a challenge.”

But with the wind at his back Saturday, McDermott said he was surprised not to feel too tired after finishing the trip.

Liam McDermott on the Charles River Esplanade on Saturday after finishing his journey of 57 miles over two days.
Liam McDermott on the Charles River Esplanade on Saturday after finishing his journey of 57 miles over two days.(Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe)

And he had some added motivation along the way: Band members were “popping out randomly” from the bushes and on bridges along the river, playing the bagpipes.

It gave him “a little bit of adrenaline, you know,” explained Mike Casper, one of the band members waiting to greet McDermott with his music.

“It’s very honorable to be a part of it,” Casper said of the band. “When someone goes down, you’re there for the families.”

Janice Anderson, an officer of The Hundred Club, was also waiting for McDermott on the Esplanade.

“It was a great way to grab people and get people interested in the fundraiser and kind of bring awareness,” Anderson said of the kayaking journey, which has been shared online in a request for donations. “Now, hopefully, my phone will be ringing.”

The club, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, provides financial help, summer enrichment programs, and tuition assistance to family members of fallen first responders.

“When [a death leaves] the news, everybody moves onto the next news story,” she said. “But we’re there still, with them.”

McDermott’s greeting from the bagpipers surprised others lounging on the pier.

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After learning of his mission and the length of his journey, Michela Del Po, 23, was impressed.

“That’s crazy — 50 miles? That’s insane,” Del Po said. “That means a lot for somebody to do that. . . . It means he’s someone special, doing something right for the better of the world.”


Kellen Browning can be reached at kellen.browning@globe.com, or on Twitter at @kellen_browning.