Open Eyes, Open Hearts at Final Push
“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” Albert Einstein said those words long before the Boot Campaign was born, yet they so perfectly articulate our efforts to cultivate awareness as part of our modern-day mission. Final Push, the daylong finale of the Pushups for Charity marathon fundraiser, began not long after sunrise June 28 and definitively awakened patriots throughout the National Mall. It began simply, but over the course of the next eight hours, hundreds of people who knew little or nothing about the Boot Campaign, and likely hadn’t given much thought to the challenges facing veterans and military families, walked away a little tired, a little sweaty and a whole lot more cognizant of what it means to sacrifice for our country.
Reporting for duty
It speaks volumes about the Boot Campaign when a handful of engaging, inspiring and motivating active duty and retired servicemen join the movement. Among those were Petty Officer Mike McFarland and SSgt. Jake McCormack, who took leave to travel with the Boot Campaign from their posts in San Diego, Calif. and McKinney, Texas. Enthusiastic and fiercely committed to the mission, they recruited spectators to join in, counted an untold number of 90-second rounds of pushups, dropped eye-to-eye with participants to help them through those last moments and completed more than a few rounds of pushups themselves. McFarland held the daily record, in fact, completing 142 pushups during one early morning set. Contributing time and talent at Final Push provided an opportunity to give back to fellow service-members and veterans, and to connect with civilians over a renewed sense of patriotism.
“The most meaningful part of the Final Push for me, especially as an active duty member, was seeing the amount of people who were willing to come over and take the time to do something that might have been a little out of their comfort zone. For those of us that have served or are serving, pushups are something we are fairly used to, but for a civilian it may not be something they really ever do. It was great to see kids, adults and even seniors get down there and do pushups, whether it was 15 or 100. It wasn’t just Americans pitching in; there were people from Israel, Japan, Ukraine and others that took the time to get down there and help us out,” shares McFarland.
Faces of OUR Freedom
Hands down, combat-wounded veterans Capt. James Byler (Ret.), SSG (Ret.) Aaron Hale and the Boot Campaign’s own SSgt. (Ret.) Joey Jones served as the biggest inspiration for the many hundreds that pushed to honor our military. Byler and Jones, both double amputees, and Hale, now blind due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan, illuminated the life-changing repercussions of war but also the overwhelming resilience and spirit found in our servicemen and women. Like their active duty counterparts, the trio pushed themselves and pushed others to the finish, but the sense of gratitude and, more significantly, optimism, revealed after witnessing these triumphs exemplified the very purpose of Pushups for Charity and the Boot Campaign.
Throughout the day, time after time, people stopped what they were doing to drop and push for 90 seconds. Entire tour buses of high school students lined up three and four rows deep, shoulder to shoulder with friends, sponsors and perfect strangers, to show their support. Running groups paused their workouts to engage in a minute-and-a-half of upper body training once they learned about the cause. Visitors from across the world, whose armed forces may have battled ours, couldn’t walk away from the chance to honor these, and other, military heroes. Over and over spectators approached the group to find out what was going on, and every time the reaction was the same: “If these guys can do pushups with their limitations, so can I.”
James Byler recalls, “There was a group of Ukranians who came by – they were really competitive with each other, and afterwards just wanted to ask what happened to me. I explained what happened to me in Afghanistan, and they were all really fascinated. They took group photos with me at the end; I thought that sort of interaction was part of what the day was all about.”
All in a day’s work
Byler was right – putting faces to the concept of combat veteran, giving back a little for sacrifices that were great and reigniting patriotism were the impetus for the Final Push. All day long, looks of curiosity transformed to expressions of pride, making sore arms and gritty hands seem all but insignificant compared to what our warfighters endure. People got it; they understood.
There were more than a few pushups logged that day: 53,102 to be exact, beating the initial 50,000-pushup goal. But there were far more than a few lives changed at Final Push, and that’s the Boot Campaign’s mission every day.