One of the great things about this project is that it’s pretty darned simple, and for a simple fellow like myself, that comes in handy. Show up with the video camera, sneakers and a basketball or two (I guess we should include pants, if we’re really being picky) … and I’ve pretty much got it covered. So to speak.
So how did I handle that extraordinarily small scope of responsibility on the biggest day of shooting yet?
And that’s where the story of Chris Hodges begins.
Let me clarify: This is where the most recent chapter starring Chris Hodges begins. His story, at least as far as it connects with Hoops For Heroes, dates back to November of 2009, when he and Lady Tiffany Hodges became the very first donors to the HFH cause.
I’ve been saying various thank yous to Chris and the Hodges family — including Kyle and Drew — ever since.
Thank you for allowing us the Waterville Valley gym. Thank you for introducing us to the incredible Decoteau family. Thank you for being a board member. Thank you for the endless stream of encouragement. (Most recently, thank you for a record breaking bicycle ride in support of the cause … but more on that later.)
And on this particular day: Thanks for making 21,000 possible.
That was the goal on September 2, a few Fridays back: 21,000 made free throws, in memory of Marc Decoteau on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Marc was an Army specialist from Waterville Valley killed in the line of duty on January 29, 2010. He was just weeks into his tour in Afghanistan, and he was 19 years old.
He was, as I’m told, a special person far above and beyond his willingness to wear the uniform and sacrifice on our behalf. His death gave way to an ocean’s worth of tears, many of which were shed by Chris, Tiff, Kyle and Drew. See the number 40 on Kyle’s Plymouth High football uniform up there? That was Marc’s number, Marc’s uniform.
So there we were, on the eve of Marc’s birthday, making final preparations at the upside-down ark better known as the Waterville Valley Recreation Department gym, when I noticed …
“Hey Chris, you got an extra pair of sneakers?”
He figured I was kidding.
As you know, I wasn’t.
He handed over his black Solomon cross-trainers, size 10, and I jumped in.
It was just a few minutes later that Chris saved the day, again, before it had begun. It was roughly 7 p.m. by now, and we had just a few more minutes to go, we figured, before it would be time to sneak in a nap. Shooting was to start promptly at midnight on September 2.
Perhaps incidentally, perhaps not, this was to be a world record attempt as well. Nancy Decoteau, Marc’s mom, had asked for the 21,000 because of birthday 21, and as it turns out the record for most foul shots made in a 24 hour period was 20,371. The record was secondary, of course, but kind of cool nonetheless. So we figured we’d do all the preliminary t-crossing and i-dotting necessary to ensure this could eventually be submitted as a world record-breaker.
We had set up the appropriate tools, and we were just about to leave.
“Think we should check the height of the rim?” Chris asked.
So we did, more as a formality than anything else. Naturally, it was going to measure the regulation 10 feet required, right.
It was 9-foot-6.
So after a little laugh about how funny (and absolutely horrifying) it would have been to be at around 19,000 and only then made the discovery, Kyle adjusted the rim up to its maximum height, and then we checked again … 10 feet.
It was time for a little sleep at the Golden Eagle Lodge condo across the street.
The original plan had been to get to WV by 5, be in bed by 6 and sleep until 11. Instead, that turned into getting to WV by 5, setting up until 8, getting to the condo at 8:30, laying awake in bed until 9:30, then sleeping until 11. At one point during that laying awake window, I texted The Beautiful Heth, to which she responded, and I quote: “Go the @%*# to sleep.”
So I did.
After waking at 11, I quickly got to the gym, and slowly members of our overnight crew began arriving. That’s them, above, from left: Chris, Tiffany, Drew and Kyle Hodges, Ian McKinnon, Tom Quackenbush, Andrew Vermeersch, Colleen Steele, Mark, Andrew and Nancy Decoteau, and me, in my new size 10 Solomons that belonged to the guy at the other end of the line.
At about 11:45, we walked outside and silently raised Marc’s memorial flag below the Stars & Stripes.
Then came midnight. We sounded a horn, and started firing away.
I had prepared a couple jokes …
Upon my first miss: “I quit.”
When we hit 15: “Almost there!”
No, really. It was funny.
OK, maybe you had to be there.
So with two portraits of Marc affixed to the wall behind the backboard — wearing his football No. 40 in one and his lacrosse No. 40 in the other — we knocked the first 1,000 down with Mark, Nancy and Andrew Decoteau doing the bulk of the rebounding. The first grand complete, Mark Decoteau looked at the clock and smiled: It had been exactly 40 minutes.
Away we went.
We hit 2,000 at 1:22 a.m., 3,000 at 2:04, 4,000 at 2:50, and 5,000 at 3:37. It was time for our first meal break, and let me assure you that was the best macaroni and cheese breakfast I’ve ever had.
After that quick shooting reprieve, we landed on 6,000 at 4:45, 7,000 at 5:30, 8,000 at 6:17, 9,000 at 7:07, and 10,000 at a couple minutes before 8. More breakfast, and probably the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had.
We started back up at 8:34, and by now I figured it was time to start evaluating how I felt. At 10,000, the next made free throw would represent the most we’d ever done, and we were still not halfway home. I still felt fine generally, although a little stiff, and I could sense things were starting to change a little. We finished No. 11,000 at 9:16, and then things started to get a little tougher.
The next 1,000 seemed to drag. My back stiffened further. Then my wrist. I wasn’t feeling particularly tired, but some of my 43-year-old body parts sure were. And then, once again, there was Chris.
“Lay down on your stomach,” he said at the break after 12,000 (10:10 a.m.), then proceeded to give me the best damned lower back deep tissue massage I may ever have. And I’m only a tiny bit embarrassed to tell you that.
From there — as we rolled through 13,000 at 11:18 — Chris was on drink and nutrition patrol. And then, just before we crossed high noon, in from the back door, along with Kara and Chandler Bean, walked three little Cummings Things and, ahhhhhhhhhh, The Beautiful Heth … never beautifuler.
As she would recall later in the evening, at that point I was listing in a fairly pronounced way — forward and back, forward and back, looking to her like I might actually fall down.
She asked Chris how long I’d been doing that. He told her it had been a while. And I don’t know if this part is illegal as far as the world record folks are concerned, but that’s when TBH walked over, stood behind me, and started doing a little reiki healing on my lower back as I shot. That probably went on for a couple hundred shots or so.
God, I love that woman.
Oh, before we go any further … Now’s probably as good a time as any to throw in my favorite photo from the night (taken by his grandmother Betty Martin): that of Drew Hodges, perhaps becoming the first person in history to use those fold-up tumbling mats as the bed, blanket and pillow as he got a little snooze in the middle of the gym floor, like so:
We hit 14,000 at 12:17 p.m., two-thirds of the way home, and it was lunchtime — the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had — and a 1:17 restart. As we continued inching along — 15,000 at 2:04, 16,000 at 3:15, 17,000 at 4:16 — I was becoming more, well, pathetic by the hour. Breaks, which had come every 2,000 made shots at the beginning and then every 1,000 by midday, were soon to be coming every 500. I was laying down longer, probably even whining a little bit, if we’re being honest.
Sixteen hours earlier, with 21,000 as our operative number, four thousand didn’t seem like such a tall order. But it sure seemed daunting now.
Fortunately, in addition to all the incredible Waterville Valley support, my mom Linder and stepfather Paul had recently shown up, as had my very best friend from the good old days, Tim Radford, to assist both mentally and physically. Tim had to leave somewhere around the 17,000 mark, but before he did, he got his twin brother Tom — a Burlington, Vt., cop and my other very best friend from the good old days — on the phone.
I told him I didn’t feel so good.
“Just think about how those guys over in Iraq and Afghanistan feel.” He told me I could probably figure out a way to shoot baskets for another few hours.
Which is exactly why he remains my best friend to this day.
Yet as right as he was, I needed help nonetheless. My right wrist and forearm were now wrapped, and pretty well shot. I was losing the ability to break my wrist properly on the follow through, which meant I had no feel for depth. I was chafing under both armpits where the sleeveless Waterville Valley Fire Department T-shirt was rubbing (thanks for the ointment — and, if I may be so bold, the application, Dave Noyes). And my lower back felt like it belonged to a 90-year-old man.
Worse, I was apparently losing my mind. I was convinced that Tiffany and her mom, Marilyn Ford, had blue hair.
“Dude, when I got there you weren’t making any sense at all,” Tim told me a couple days later.
But that’s where The Beautiful Heth came in. Reiki every 500 made shots. Back rubs. And an infusion of confidence. “Almost there,” she said, over and over and over.
The other secret weapons that had arrived by now, by the way, were our old friends Jim and Seth Bean, the two most prolific rebounders we’ve had on this journey. Jim didn’t begin until last November, but he immediately committed to joining me for at least 50,000 … and this would be the night he crossed over the 40,000 mark. He stepped in at 17,000 and said he wasn’t leaving his spot until the end.
But even with the Beans, getting to 18,000 (5:35 p.m.) seemed to take forever, to 19,000 (6:50 p.m.) forever and a day … and then it really started getting ugly. Rather than shooting, I was throwing. Everything was short. I was missing a lot, and it was plenty annoying.
Chris came over. “Stop getting frustrated,” he said firmly. “You knew you weren’t going to be shooting as well at the end, so this isn’t anything you didn’t expect. We’ve got five hours if you need it.”
And that’s how it went up to 20,000 (7:51 p.m.) … probably shooting about 60 percent, as opposed to the low 90s that we’d managed for the first half of the day. I was still getting frustrated, but Chris was right. This wasn’t a surprise, and I needed to chill out.
The last 1,000 were, also not surprisingly, the slowest of the night. At 20,372 we stopped for a few minutes to celebrate the record-breaker … and at 20,979, Mark, Nancy and Andrew Decoteau jumped in for the final shots of Marc’s 21st birthday: the final 21 made shots.
It was 8:45 p.m., 20 hours and 45 minutes after we’d begun.
When it was all over, we hugged and shook hands, we took a few photos, we ate … the best fruit salad and microwaved hot dogs ever. It had been a great day, and a blur. It was dark again. The wind was blowing a bit more than the night before, and Marc’s memorial flag was now stirring, as if in approval of the day’s proceedings. At least that’s my interpretation.
Nancy and Mark Decoteau had been there at our side for all but a few hours. “Thank you for the birthday party,” Nancy said.
Thank you for the invitation and the challenge, Nancy. This was the best day we’ve had yet, and I’m not just talking about the numbers.
And speaking of thanks …
To each of the 35 rebounders (26 of whom can be seen above) — Colleen Steele, Anne Barbeau, Tom Quackenbush, the whole danged Hodges family, John Keller, Andrew Vermeersch, Deb and Ian McKinnon, Dan Gilman, Dave Noyes, Liz Gibbs, Katie Jones, John Luukko, Mark and Dorothy DiBona, Marilyn Ford, Raddy, Margaret Kingston, Betty Martin, Da Beans, Jake DeBow, Linder and Paul Messer, NOAH!, Jeff Dropkin and, of course, Mark, Nancy and Andrew Decoteau — all I can say is wow … that would have taken just about 48 hours without you. These were our 21,000 made free throws.
To The Beautiful Heth, thanks for not only allowing it, but for keeping the ship afloat when we needed some serious help down the stretch.
And to Chris Hodges, who didn’t sleep a wink while running this show: “Thanks” doesn’t really even come close, but it will have to do. XO, buddy.
The whole day was wrapped up very appropriately by Concord Monitor reporter Sarah Palermo the next day under the headline, “A 21,000-throw birthday tribute,” and a few days after that Monitor editorial page editor Ralph Jimenez wrote the lead editorial, “Hoops for Heroes worthy of support.”
And I’ll finish up here by sharing with you a letter I wrote to the Monitor in response:
Thank you to the Monitor for its generous editorial regarding Hoops For Heroes and its plea for financial support of the project, every penny of which goes to assist injured veterans via the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
This cause was born from a recognition of an overwhelming need, as more and more soldiers return home with life-altering and in many cases life-long injuries to the mind and body. It is a physical, emotional and financial trauma — on individuals, families and communities all over the country — of an incalculable depth and with no end in sight. It is our most significant national wound.
And thank you to Monitor writer Sarah Palermo for her wonderful and sensitive treatment of our recent day in Waterville Valley. Palermo connected the dots beautifully, recognizing that the focal point of this project is not the guy who gets to go out and play basketball every day. The point is the late Army Specialist Marc Decoteau, his family and thousands of others like them — those whose lives are forever changed because of their willingness to sacrifice in order that we may continue to play.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.