The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

Hugh Hughes (Day Eighty-Two)

I want to say that it was around Day Forty-Four or something of the sort. We were in the Midwest, of that much I’m certain. Mince and I were talking about the strategy for the rest of the way, and also about what we needed. It was kind of the theme during that particular stretch, and we were pretty good at being systematic about categorizing the things we needed to do. On this particular day, we were taking a breather at an abandoned train depot. The subject was guest riders. Looking ahead at the path, we knew that there’d be a few stretches that would be tough and unique from other difficult parts. Specifically, we knew that the final push would be a stressful one, not because of physical challenges but because we’d be under the gun to get things done. It would be great to pick up someone that was first of all loyal and committed to the cause, but also someone who was a friend of the Foundation and also possessed an intangible asset: a sense of humor. Upon getting to this conclusion, we looked at each other and at the exact same time said, ‘Hughes’!

We had both known Adam for years; he lived in Seattle and at one time worked for Wimmer Solutions. He was a member of the lacrosse community, and his two-time All-America status was only overshadowed by his sense of humility, of realism and his absolute skill of friendship. He has been someone that we could count on, so it made perfect sense to ask him to be involved. Day Eighty-Two would be his last day on board, and we’ll miss him. This was a guest rider who was never out for himself and always found a way to put the Cause ahead of himself; he cared deeply about the cause and did all he could to help. And, his occasional antics were welcome relief for the team. Eighty-Two would start after a wild couple of days. We had enjoyed our longest stretch of rest days and learned much about ourselves, the team dynamic, and overcoming adversity. Irene tried to ruin our trip, but she was only successful in causing some setbacks which would eventually raise the level of determination and resolve of the team. Unfortunately, she would also foil some much-anticipated plans for at least one team member to see some folks he’d not seen in years, and probably won’t see for years to come. I have to say that without the efforts of Mark Carroll, with the help of Paul Dobbyn, we would not have been nearly as successful at the comeback that we staged.

It was a sunny morning, and it began for us at the famous Chick and Ruth’s Delly (yes, its spelled D-E-L-L-Y). This place is loved by Annapolitans; it’s been around for decades upon decades, is open 365/24, rain or shine, snow or storm. The place laughed at Irene, called her names and showed her no respect. Gotta love it. Every morning, the Pledge of Allegiance is performed by a standing crowd, and they’re usually shoulder to shoulder. Being that the US Naval Academy is only a few blocks away, there tends to be a slightly patriotic crowd. On this particular morning, we were invited, as a team, to meet the owner and talk about our purpose. We had been invited by a new supporter who knew the owner. Her name was Debby Borza, and she had endured pain and also been comforted by a sense of pride. Her daughter, Deora, was one of the heroes on Flight 93 that dove to the ground in Shanksville, PA. She was the youngest person on the flight; her twenty years of life had been bright, and she was returning to college where she was going to begin her junior year at Santa Clara University. When she heard Kevin’s story, she literally sought him out and found him in the middle of the hurricane’s peak. Downtown had been officially closed, but she went there anyway on the off chance that Kevin would be standing tall, as planned. Which, of course, he was. She wanted to thank him and out of this meeting, a sendoff was imagined that would wind up changing the tone of our departure from Annapolis, my proud hometown. Instead of having to feel that fate had frowned, we left to applause heartfelt cheers and impromptu donations from complete strangers who’d had no interest in the tax benefit forms that we provide. The owner, Ted, had dedicated the morning’s Pledge to Team Jesse, and even told the story in great detail. It was moving, even for someone who has told the story countless times as I have. Debby, we’re sorry for your loss. Ted, it’s great that you do what you do each day to create tradition and legacy. Heroes like Kevin and Deora deserve nothing less. With full stomachs and even fuller hearts, we rolled out of the downtown area towards the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail. We crossed the two bridges to do so, both of them offering spectacular views of the Naval Academy, downtown Annapolis and the water that runs throughout both. I was very proud, as the team was able to see the beauty of the place where I grew up. It was a sunny day, and the vistas were not to be believed.

The team was unique in that we had four guest riders; it was Hugh Adam Hughes’ last day; Kevin Collins was there; John O’Donnell showed up, a familiar face from week one, way back in Fallon, NV; Katie O’Farrell came from Seattle, yet another person who had contributed to coaching the team back in our training days. Finally, Debby’s fiancé, Joel, came to ride the morning with us. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, as much had changed since I lived in Annapolis, and Irene had caused several necessary route changes. We sped pretended not to see the ‘trail closed’ sign, and were treated to a beautiful yet debris-covered trail that took up about 25 miles of the day’s route. It was sun-filtered at this point, and the surface was consistent with other trails we’d enjoyed in that it was challenging. Instead of being crushed limestone or gravel, this time it was covered in recently-felled vegetation. Also, lots of sticks and branches gave us reason to pay attention. Occasionally, downed trees had us dismounting our bikes and getting creative. Joel was a great tour guide, and we cruised along in wonder and great spirits. It was peaceful, and we savored it. Life is about change sometimes, though, and Day Eighty-Two was no different. After a flat tire was repaired in record time, we rode into the outskirts of Baltimore, destination a town called Pikesville. The path to Pikesville showed us some urban sprawl that was much different than anything we’d seen on The Ride, and for a few of our riders, it was unlike any urban situation that they’d ever seen. Entrenched poverty and blatant crime were everywhere, and it was with good reason that Johnny O, our MMA fighter, was stationed in the back, bringing up the rear of the string. Kevin led the way, and we put Katie smack dab in the middle. Messick was never far behind and he really likes to squeal the tires on the vehicle, especially when he uses his new ‘woopie’ light (yellow flashing light that sits on the roof and sort of looks like a siren). Messick never smiles when driving, and if you didn’t know he was a teddy bear, you might think he was sorta hard, all things considered. A group of stoop-sitting young men were heard to count us as we pedaled past (one, two, three, etc) and then say, ‘them some expensive bikes!’, which wasn’t very comforting. Then, despite our doubts and fears, we all realized something, and it sort of happened all at once: every single bit of direct conversation or correspondence from the people on these crowded streets was done in encouragement; we had cheers, applause, and encouragement. We were told, ‘you go!’, and once a broad-smiling youngster ran along Kevin, racing him on foot as we pedaled past. In the end, it was heart-warming and shed some new hope on the human condition, at least for the riders on Day Eighty-Two. Not that we would want to hang out down there and leave our bikes sitting out for too long, but the faces were smiling, and we didn’t hear anything hateful or threatening. Other experiences that I’ve had on Reisterstown Road have not been as encouraging. We pulled into our hotel, said goodbye to Hugh Adam Hughes, our good friend, and made plans for dinner. It was a unique dinner, and I was very proud to make some introductions. A few members of the Wimmer Solutions Lacrosse team joined the Team Jesse Ride team, and we had one additional guest. My eldest daughter, Alex, took the time to join us after her very first day of college; she is going to school in Baltimore, and it felt great to introduce her to the both teams. Kevin had long wanted to see her, and he had met her years ago, and there are a few differences between someone who is 13 years old and 18 years old. It’s also nice to know that Alex has the phone numbers of Paul Rabil, Kyle Hartzell, Drew Westervelt and Paul Rubeor in her phone. They now know her and it’s good to have friends like these people (big dudes that are used to getting hit with sticks and body checks) looking after my baby.

After all, not every story about the human condition is a good one.

For Families of the Fallen...To The Limit,

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri