While sitting on the plane on the way back from the A1A half marathon weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I reflect on the thrilling adventure I’ve just experienced. I had just spent three days with Team HASC, days that were nothing short of miraculous. It’s been some time since I’ve had such nachas and joy, since I was so fully choked up with emotion. So far, it has been the most exhilarating journey of my life.
Six months ago I decided to run to help raise funds for the incredible Camp HASC, where I am honored to work during the summer. Living at Camp HASC is an eye-opening experience. As a counselor, I was introduced to a variety of diagnoses, medical terms, and therapeutic treatments concerning the care of children and adults with special needs. Working with them is awesome and fulfilling. But flying down to Florida, spending Shabbos in a beautiful hotel, and running a half marathon with these same special neshomas is something I could have never imagined.
The days before the marathon were filled with a great mix of emotions, mostly joy. All was going well until we received a call on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 when our hopes and dreams came tumbling down. We got an e-mail that let us know that two out of three of our larger group flights to Florida had been cancelled. The terrible snowstorm that gripped the East Coast that week left snow and ice on the runways, leaving us at Team HASC stranded. We thought we could rent some buses and drive down, but that dream too was cancelled when the Team HASC committee deemed it unsafe.
Thankfully, with the help of Eli Rowe and Jet Blue, Team HASC was able to organize a chartered plane that left JFK airport on Friday morning. Team HASC arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon excited to begin the anticipated marathon weekend. The excitement and the emotions were palpable from the moment of our arrival.
We were warmly greeted by the Team HASC committee and staff who worked tirelessly for months to make the event happen for the precious neshomas of Camp HASC.Our Shabbos was filled with ruach, the spirit in the room vibrant. From the riveting Kabbalas Shabbos to the heartwarming drashes, zemiros and Havdalah, every moment was inspiring and uplifting. We were zoche to hear from campers’ parents and siblings’ testimony as to what HASC stands for.
Over Shabbos, I could not stop watching the smiles and pride on the faces of over 160 current and past staff who took a weekend off to fly down to Florida to improve the quality of life of our beloved campers. One dedicated counselor, whose schedule did not allow him to spend Shabbos in Ft. Lauderdale, flew through the night after Shabbos ended, and arrived just in time to push his camper during the marathon. Running with Team HASC is not about timing and finishing fast. I had a different goal in mind: my campers. Eighteen children with special needs completed the half marathon with the help of dedicated staff and family members. As I ran the course, I witnessed first-hand the commitment required of my peers. There were counselors stopping on the side to give their campers necessary medication, feeding children through G-tubes (Gastrostomy Tubes) during the race, and counselors who had to find a safe place to change campers, despite the added minutes to their finishing time.
The commitment didn’t stop there. Strollers and wheelchairs needed to be fixed throughout the race and each counselor made sure that campers were safe by providing essential padding for cushioning and support. I know that I don’t speak alone when I say that there really aren’t enough adjectives to adequately describe the pure devotion these Malachim give to these special children .
As the team members were lining up for the start of the race, the announcers noticed how the participating runners from Team HASC were brimming with enthusiasm. Thousands of runners attended this event, and so many asked what HASC was and what it stood for. As Team HASC member, I was proud to say that it was an organization for children and adults with special needs. As marathon runners listened and grasped the enormity of what they were witnessing, I heard a runner utter the following two words: “Good Lord!” It was a massive public Kiddush Hashem.
Numerous individuals stopped by the Team HASC tent to inquire about Camp HASC and expressed impressed they were with our turnout, enthusiasm, and dedication. One gentleman asked to take a picture of my T-shirt so he could look up the organization on the Internet. As I was leaving the marathon, two runners from another group came over and said, “We were extremely impressed to see college kids pushing children with special needs. You did well and it’s so commendable.”
What did they see? Two Team HASC counselors were pushing a boy with special needs in a jogging wheelchair. They were about 100 feet from the finish line and instinctively unbuckled their camper. They pushed the wheelchair aside, and struggled with the camper, hand-in-hand, stride for stride, to cross the finish line with their arms raised. The crowd roared with cheers and I felt my eyes well up. What an incredible display of devotion, self-sacrifice and love. I was so proud to have the z’chus to be a part of such an amazing organization.
Disregarding any physical or mental disabilities that they may have, 18 campers with special needs crossed the finish line of their own accord. Among the finishers was a camper with cerebral palsy. He walked over the finish with his counselors line. Another camper with a prosthetic leg raced through the finish line on crutches with his counselors cheering right beside him. As each camper crossed the finish line, tremendous cheers and thunderous applause erupted spontaneously from strangers and spectators watching the incredible sight unfolding before their eyes.
To learn more about supporting and or joining TEAM HASC please contact Alyssa or Avi Sacks at [email protected] or visit us at www.teamhasc.com
By M. Alper