By Maureen Stiles
The recovery process for wounded soldiers and their families is largely about putting one foot in front of the other and adjusting to a new normal in their lives. So, it is only fitting that runners John Santell, Regis Canny and Lee Becker lace up their sneakers to raise money for nonprofit Fisher House Foundation.
Fisher House offers housing to the families of recovering soldiers in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or military facilities so they can be with their loved ones as they convalesce. There are 57 houses, including one in Germany, each designed with suites to accommodate family members.
Canny, a retired Air Force colonel, was the first of the runners to raise money for the nonprofit, and the effort happened as a fluke. “On my 55th birthday I decided to run a marathon, but I missed the Marine Corps registration deadline by one day. I discovered that the marathon organizers would let you register late if you were fundraising for a charity. I had heard the Fisher House mentioned extensively on the radio, so I committed to raising the required $500 for them.”
In the ensuing four years, fellow runner and former Duquesne University classmate Santell was one of Canny’s best supporters. In 2011, Canny invited Santell to the Fisher House pre-race pasta dinner before the Marine Corps Marathon. Santell listened to the speakers and says he was “so moved that I decided I wanted to be a part of it. Since I run, I wanted to be a part of the cause.”
Thus the JackRabbits, the name the runners gave the fundraising team, was born. Originally just Santell and Canny, both Kentlands residents, were reflected in the name with the capital “J” and “R” denoting their first names.
Santell shared the Fisher House story with Becker as the two particpated in Leadership VA classes. They both had the opportunity to visit a facility in Dallas, Texas, and were inspired by the words of the military family members they encountered while there. Becker, a former Navy Corpsman, was involved in the deployment of a care management plan for Marine Corps reservists in 2005. As such, he knew that, “at the time the military has no resources to support the families that were so critical to the recovery of these wounded soldiers. I never knew of this opportunity until I talked to John.”
The team gladly folded in Becker, and the three embarked on an ambitious total of nine races together this year, all as Fisher House fundraising events. The trio raised almost $10,000 in the process and received recognition at this year’s pre-Marathon dinner for raising the most money per runner and as a salute for running all four military races this year, including the Navy Nautical 10-miler, which actually measures approximately 11.5 miles.
Santell’s background as a pharmacist gives him insight into the medical side of the Fischer House mission. “The holistic care that a patient receives is just as important as the medical care,” Santell said. “There is evidence that having injured vets rejoined with family members gets them better sooner.”
Canny has raised nearly $16,000 since his first Marathon five years ago and celebrated his 60th birthday by throwing a party and requesting donations to Fisher House in lieu of gifts. He still finds inspiration in the words of Fisher House residents and draws on those sentiments to get through the races.
Becker was “amazed during the [Marine Corps Marathon] that everyone running had something on their shirt that said who or what they were running for. As if they were saying, ‘This is my sacrifice, to run with the pain, in memory of something or someone, the higher purpose.’ A double amputee saw my shirt and said thank you because Fischer House has taken care of him.”
When asked about the team’s plans for the future, the unanimous, resounding, simultaneous response was “Do More.” With that attitude, there is no doubt the JackRabbits will continue to make great strides in assisting veterans and their families acclimate.
For more information on the Fisher House Foundation visit www.fisherhouse.org. The JackRabbits are continuing to collect donations through the end of December. To contribute or learn more, visit www.active.com/donate/FisherHouse2012MCM/LJR.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski