z5By M. Alper

While sitting on the return flight from the A1A half-marathon weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I begin to reflect on the thrilling adventure. The last three days spent with Team HASC have been 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.

Six months ago, I decided to run as a member of Team HASC to help raise funds for Camp HASC. Spending the summer at Camp HASC is an eye-opening experience for every staff member. As a counselor, I was introduced to a variety of diagnoses, medical terms, and therapeutic treatments focusing on the necessities in caring for children and adults with special needs. However, having the opportunity to fly down to Florida, spend Shabbos in a beautiful hotel, and running a half-marathon with these same special neshamos is something I could have never imagined.

The four days leading up to the marathon weekend were filled with a great mix of emotions. All was going as planned until we received an e-mail stating that two of our three larger group flights had been canceled. The winter storm had left the majority of the East Coast covered in snow and ice, leaving us at Team HASC seemingly stranded. After we were informed that we would be riding buses down, that dream too was canceled, as it was determined by the Team HASC committee that driving conditions were unsafe. Thankfully, with the help of Eli Rowe and JetBlue, Team HASC was able to organize a chartered plane that would leave JFK Airport on Friday morning. Team HASC arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon, excited to begin the marathon weekend.

We were greeted by the warm Team HASC committee and staff that had worked tirelessly for months arranging all the details of the weekend. From the head staff, directors, counselors, volunteers, and countless others, the goal was clear: the entire event and all details were meticulously arranged for the precious neshamos of Camp HASC.

Our Shabbos was filled with ruach, the spirit in the room vibrant. From the riveting Kabbalas Shabbos to the heartwarming derashos, zemiros, and Havdalah, every moment was truly inspiring and uplifting. We were zocheh to hear from campers’ parents and siblings as a testimony to what HASC stands for. As I sat at the Shabbos meals with my fellow staff members and campers, 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 Fort Lauderdale, boarded a plane immediately after, flew through the night, and arrived just in time to push his camper during the marathon. The dedication of my fellow staff members is inconceivable.

Most who set out to complete a half-marathon have one goal in mind: the finishing time. Running with Team HASC, I had a different goal in mind: my campers. Eighteen children with special needs had completed the half-marathon with the help of dedicated staff and family members. As I ran the course, I witnessed firsthand what commitment was required of my peers. There were counselors stopping on the side to give their camper necessary medication, children being fed through G-tubes (gastrostomy tubes) during the race, and counselors who had to find a safe place to change campers, despite adding 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.

Among many special moments were those when I observed my fellow HASC volunteers lifting their campers out of their wheelchairs or special running strollers and urging those who could walk to actually walk and even trot: a true sense of running in the marathon. Strangers who had never seen or heard of Camp HASC stopped in their tracks to observe the HASC volunteers walking and cheering their campers on. It was a true sanctification of Hashem’s name, one of many on that day; tikun olam at its finest.

As the team members were lining up for the start of the race, the announcers couldn’t help but notice how the participating runners from Team HASC were brimming with enthusiasm. Thousands of runners attended this event, and so many asked about HASC. As a runner of Team HASC, I was proud to say that it was an organization for children and adults with special needs. As marathon runners listened and grasped the immensity of what they were witnessing, I heard a runner utter the following two words: “Good L‑rd!” This too was a massive public Kiddush Hashem.

Numerous individuals stopped by the Team HASC tent to inquire about Camp HASC and said how 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.” They continued, “You did well and it’s so commendable.”

The day was indeed an emotion explosion. An overwhelming and touching finish line incident: Two Team HASC counselors were pushing a boy in a jogging wheelchair. They were about 100 feet from the finish line and they instinctively unbuckled their camper. They pushed the wheelchair aside, and struggled together with the camper hand in hand, stride for stride, as they crossed 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 zechus to be a part of such an amazing organization.

The entire staff of Team HASC defines what it means to be role models of giving and selflessness. Disregarding any physical or mental disabilities that they may have, 18 campers crossed the finish line on their own accord. Among the finishers was a camper with cerebral palsy. He walked with his counselors over the finish line. Another, with a prosthetic leg, raced over 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 this incredible sight. I am honored that I was able to witness this event firsthand. It is even a greater honor that I get to experience these achievements on a daily basis for seven weeks in the summer.

To the committee, head staff, counselors, nursing staff, volunteers, and all who are associated with this makom kadosh (holy place), you have made me so proud to be a part of such an awe-inspiring organization. Let us hope that, through our incredible actions, im yirtzeh Hashem, G‑d willing, Camp HASC will be in Yerushalayim where all will be healed, and everyone will know that you are from the true heroes of Klal Yisrael.

To learn more about supporting or joining Team HASC, please contact Alyssa or Avi Sacks at info@teamhasc.com or visit www.teamhasc.com. v


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