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November 11, 2011

I think we all know that it’s never really been about the foul shots. It’s always been about the gratitude.

It’s been about saying thank you, in our own small way, for the kinds of sacrifices that many of us – myself certainly included – never had to endure.

It’s been about doing our small part for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and its mission of serving our nation’s injured Veterans.

It’s been about perfect strangers, like the Winders family and Gill family and Earl family, and Chris Nolan and Jesse Ander and Chris DeBlois, who showed up at the gym or the house to help rebound, to help us say thank you.

It’s been about our new friends in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Bell Buckle, Tennessee, and New Albany, Indiana, who invited us to their parts of the world to convey that thank you.

It’s been about a boy with autism who decided to make our project the theme of his bar mitzvah so that he could join us in that thank you.

It’s been about a basketball team in Cheney, Kansas; and Miss May’s third-graders; and the Helping Hoops For Heroes team at Sea Road School in Kennebunk, Maine; one dollar at a time, joining in our thank you.

It’s been about the students that I’ve had the opportunity to visit with over the past couple of years, and about all the hands that go up when they’re asked who has had family members serve. And it’s been about the ear-shattering THANK YOU that we let fly together upon pointing to the American flag.

It’s been about a neighbor whose political differences with us didn’t prevent him from spending part of an afternoon with Heather and me, making a donation, telling us about his experiences in Vietnam and since, and allowing us to say thank you to him.

It’s been about a Rhode Island mom who, for her 57th birthday, asked her son to come rebound with us for an evening, for which she pledged to contribute $1 per made shot.

It’s been about a Tennessee man who donated the money raised from his annual attempt at driving 21 states in one day to Hoops For Heroes.

It’s been about a fifth-grader who spent the last two years literally filling in a million tiny little squares with a red colored pencil to help us measure our progress.

It’s been about a South Carolina soldier’s wife who set aside her Starbucks habit (or at least curbed it somewhat) in order to make her donation, like clockwork, the first of every month.

It’s been about a guy who decided at about the halfway point of this project that he wanted to help out by assisting on 50,000 of these made shots … and got to more than 52,000 instead.

It’s been about a guy who decided to raise money for the cause by attempting to break the New Hampshire north-to-south cycling record – and beating it by more than an hour – while raising $1,500 for the cause.

It’s been about hundreds of notes of encouragement, about additional hundreds of hands collecting rebounds and assists on the basketball court, about well over a thousand individual contributions from all over the country, ranging from loose change to $5 checks to one individual donation of $2,500.

So many men and women and boys and girls, contributing in some way, large or small, to this, our collective thank you. I’d love to name them all, but I’m happy to say that we simply wouldn’t have time.

It’s been about a wife, The Beautiful Heth, and three kids who understood that use of the word “sacrifice” is not to be wasted on a guy who gets to play basketball every day for two years … or even on his family.

And it’s been about the Decoteaus – Mark, Nancy, Andrew and Maddie – who with incredible dignity and grace have allowed their unfathomable loss to serve as this effort’s most profound inspiration.

In the broadest sense, it’s been about the sentiment best conveyed in the following words, which were spoken by Mr. Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, about a year and a half ago, at the dedication of the Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland.

This is what Mr. Fisher said:

“Those who wear the uniform of this great land are our sons and our daughters, our mothers and our fathers. When they raise their right hand and pledge to defend us against enemies foreign and domestic, with that comes a contract with this nation and with each one of us, that we take care of them when they serve, and long after their service is done. And how well we meet that responsibility is the measure of us as a nation. This … is not charity. It is our duty. It is a responsibility from which we cannot hide.”

I agree absolutely with all that Mr. Fisher said, with the exception of one small detail. We CAN hide, if we so choose, from that responsibility. I know, because I spent the majority of my life doing just that … Free country, right?

But today, we are here, saying thank you in unison. Today, we celebrate that service and we honor our side of that contract. Today, we choose – in our own small way – not to hide from that responsibility.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote “The Rising” in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was singing literally of the firefighters who ran up those stairs, into those burning towers … but I’m pretty sure he was also singing of each one of us, of what he believed we would need to do, of what he believed we would need to become.

He was asking us to rise, individually and as one.

As you know, this has never been about the guy who has been lucky enough to spend his days playing. It has been about the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way – and the families that have supported them – so that we may continue to play.

It has never been about the one million shots that I have had the privilege to make. It has always been, and I expect will continue to be, about the gratitude that we have been privileged to share.

May we continue to rise.

One million shots. Endless gratitude.

Happy Veterans Day.

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September 11, 2011: Chris Hodges, rising

It’s now been exactly one month since Chris Hodges made his awe-inspiring, record-breaking, top-to-bottom, 9/11 New Hampshire bicycle trek. I think the 30-day gap in time is appropriate, because if it had been me, instead of Chris, who laced up the bike shoes at the Canadian border in Pittsburg on the frigid morning of September 11, 2011, I’d probably be arriving at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border … just … about … now.

But that’s why I wasn’t the guy on the bike.

Chris is a serious cyclist who had, a few months prior to September 11, committed to adding to his resume (which already included the fastest New Hampshire west-to-east time) an attempt at besting the north-to-south mark: roughly 230 miles from Pittsburg to Hollis (it’s kind of tiring even typing those words) in better than 13 hours, 39 minutes, an 18-year-old record.

He would do it, he said, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks, in memory of Army Specialist Marc Decoteau, and to raise money for Hoops For Heroes.

Chris, as has been well-documented in this space, has been a force in terms of his support for our project. Along with plenty of help from his whole Hodges family — Tiffany, Kyle and Drew — he’s donated, he’s rebounded, he’s spread the word, he’s organized, he pretty much walked us through our “21,000 for 21 years” event on Sept. 2, Marc’s 21st birthday … and now this.

A half-day of nonstop pedaling.

He had invited me along as a member of the support crew, whose job it would be to “leapfrog” — driving the support car up ahead of him throughout the route, then having Coke or Mountain Dew or Coconut water or “Hammer” energy drink or Ensure, or yes, even a coffee, at the ready for him as he passed. Get back in the car, pass him, and do it again. Pretty straightforward stuff for me, Kyle and Drew.

In the trail car, then, would be Tiffany as the driver, Chris’s mom Betty Martin as No. 1 fan, and Brett Walker of Salisbury — a nationally established rider (and certified crazy person) who, by the way, has among other ridiculous feats completed the Race Across America — as the race official.

It was about 5:45 a.m. when seven humans, two cars and one Cannondale bike (“Candy”) arrived at the northern edge of America, in Pittsburg, and it was 5:51 when Brett’s countdown reached “GO!”

It was dark. It was cold.

Chris was gone.

In a few moments, so were we, driving out behind him, ready to get in front and prepare those liquids. We were armed with plenty of all the aforementioned drinks and 10 water bottles, each filled. Depending on what Chris wanted or needed along the way, our job was to be prepared with any of them. There was even a little bit of strategy involved, believe it or not. Us handing him water in the middle of a steep incline, for example, was a no-no. Far better to be at the top of a hill, enabling him to suck it back on the downslope. Makes sense, right?

For the most part, we did what we were supposed to do. Sure, there were the occasional missteps. A few times we weren’t pulled far enough to the right, forcing Chris into the roadway more than he would have liked. Additionally, we didn’t always nail that top-of-the-hill thing. And then there was the time we hesitated while alongside Chris during a pass, forcing an oncoming car to pull into the breakdown lane and stop. For that, we earned an official warning from Brett. If it happened again, it would cost our boss 15 minutes.

Oops.

But it didn’t happen again. The day flew by, and Chris flew by. In Pittsburg, then Clarksville, then Stewartstown, then Colebrook, then Columbia.

Cold.

Stratford, Northumberland, Lancaster, Whitefield, Bethlehem.

Wind.

Franconia, Lincoln, Woodstock, Thornton, Campton.

Hills.

Plymouth, Bridgewater, Bristol, New Hampton, Sanbornton.

Cramps.

Franklin, Boscawen, Penacook, Hopkinton, Dunbarton.

More hills. (Seriously, there are a lot of freakin’ hills in this state.)

Weare, New Boston, Mont Vernon, Amherst, Hollis … and finally, at just about 6:30 p.m. on Route 111, Chris sprinted over the Massachusetts border, his finish line.

Thirty towns, 229.4 miles, 12 hours and 38 minutes.

Anyone else tired?

There were roughly 20 of us, including Marc’s mom Nancy Decoteau, there at the finish line, cheering wildly for Chris’s final few strides. Chris got off the bike, barely breathing hard. (Show-off.) Then the Hodges family presented Hoops For Heroes with one of those big, beautiful checks for $1,500.

As records go, this one was crushed. Chris had beaten it by more than an hour. And though it would be a lie to say that setting a new mark was unimportant, it wasn’t most important, as I’m sure he would tell you.

“Come on up for the rising,” Bruce Springsteen wrote in the aftermath of September 11. “Come on up, lay your hands in mine.” 

What Chris Hodges did a month ago was remarkable. Ridiculous, really. And to my way of thinking, it was a fitting symbol of a great nation. A resilient nation. A nation steadily rising, just as those memorial towers at Ground Zero have risen ever since.

“Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.”

September 11, 2001, belonged to the terrorists. But each September 11 since has belonged to us.

Together, we continue to rise.

Thanks, Chris.

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.

 
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January 16: These are better days

If it’s true that you can tell a lot about someone based on what’s on his or her iPod, good luck deciphering what came from mine today during 1,943 made foul shots with Jim Bean and Vinny Dustin.

Of the 3,393 songs currently loaded on my phone, here are the 19 that the Shuffle gave to us in our hour and 20 minutes on the court:

“Secret,” Maroon 5
“Youngstown,” Bruce Springsteen
“Down By The Sea,” Men At Work
“Hang ‘Em High,” Van Halen
“When We Were Kings,” Brooks & Dunn
“You’ve Got To Be A Football Hero,” Great College Football Marches (no joke)
“Hey Stephen,” Taylor Swift (wish I were joking)
“Facts Of Life,” Talking Heads
“Fell On Black Days,” Soundgarden
“Feels So Good,” Van Halen
“Sleep, Baby Mine,” George Winston
“Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” U2
“Winter Wonderland,” Jewel
“Spoiled,” Joss Stone
“Red Rain,” Peter Gabriel
“That Ain’t Love,” REO Speedwagon
“We Made You,” Eminem
“The House Is Rockin’,” Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

And then, because there are no coincidences, and because sometimes you need a reminder, that truly random mix was followed by Mr. Springsteen, reprising the last dance of a picture perfect August 7, 1999 — the day I latched The Beautiful Heth — and serving notice that these are, in fact, better days.

Well my soul checked out missing as I sat listening
To the hours and minutes tickin’ away
Yeah just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin
While it was all just slippin’ away
I’m tired of waitin’ for tomorrow to come
Or that train to come roarin’ ’round the bend
I got a new set of clothes, a pretty red rose
And a woman I can call my friend …
These are better days, baby.

It’s true, you know.

Fifty left to 600,000 made foul shots, and trying to live gratefully, every day.

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.

 

 

 
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October 15, 2010: Laura and Mary

Clockwise starting from that Montana-sized forehead in the center, that’s me, Dave Cummings, logicist and part-time free throw shooter; Laura Azevedo, the sister of one of my best friends Rob, full-time mom and producer of the Melrose, Mass.-based, Rob Azevedo-written feature film Heavy Seven (Globe story here, trailer here); Mason Cummings, comedic genius, second-grader and part-time philanthropist; Mary Collari, midwife, fellow chocolate chip cookie-baker, mom of Julia, buddy of Jandrue, and best friend (former college roommate, godmother to one of her children) of Laura; and Noah Cummings, Granite State Raider, full-time HFH assistant, fifth-grader and my great buddy.

That’s officially the longest sentence I’ve ever written.

So that photo up there came about following the Epsom Central School gymnasium activities of last night.  Those activities included my two boys romping around like madmen on these skateboard-seat things used in phys. ed. class, just enough of Bruce Springsteen and too much of The Chipmunks version of “Livin’ on a Prayer” (thanks Mason) over the sound system, and 1,500 made foul shots thanks to the strong rebounding efforts of the evening’s full-timers Laura and Mary, along with filler-inners Noah and Mason.  We buzzed through mightily, in a little over an hour and 15 minutes.

The evening was not without its share of adventure.  In addition to a driving rain and two substantial I-93 traffic jams for the Massachusetts-based, northward-bound Laura/Mary team, Mary locked the keys in her car when the two met in Windham.  Also locked in the car: a batch of chocolate chip cookies, apparently otherwise destined for Epsom.

You know, that kind of rhymes, in a Lyle Lovettish way …

Honey put down that flyswatter / And pour me some ice water.

OK, “destined for Epsom” is much less interesting.

Where were we? … oh right, selfishly lamenting the loss of cookies while Laura and Mary likely had to go the late-night AAA route.

Assuming they’re safely home, I now thank them both.  With those 1,500, we crossed something of a mathematical threshold in that, with 473,007 total free throws now made, we’ve got just under 27,000 left to make until our 500,000th on Veterans Day, 27 days away — meaning about 1,000 a day the rest to that midway point.  Considering we started this project needing 1,370 a day, we’ve made some good time.

Please come back again, Laura and Mary.  And not only because I know you’ll bring cookies.

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.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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