Carry The Load: Remembering our fallen heroes

Story told by Mitchel Sheffield, recent ABAC graduate


Carry The Load is a non-profit organization that provides active ways to connect Americans to the sacrifices made daily by our nation’s military, veterans, first responders and their families.


In the summer of 2017, I took part in walking on the East Coast Relay, spanning across 3,000 miles. Our team walked to honor our nation's heroes.


I was on the night shift for Carry The Load, “The Raiders of the Night” as we called ourselves. The Carry The Load relay operates 24 hours a day, with only 2 overnight stops in 28 days.

On May 1, 2017, we started our journey in West Point, New York. We were set to walk to Dallas, Texas ending at Reverchon Park on May 28.

A typical day for me started around 11:30 p.m. when I would wake up and get out of my bunk (there were 12 bunks on the tour bus we used) and be ready to start at midnight. At that time, myself and one other boy would take over.

Our nights could range in distance, covering anywhere from 20 to 120 miles in a night. Most nights, each of us would bike 40 miles in 10 mile/1 hour increments, swapping after 20 miles. This was our routine for most of the relay. We covered the longer distances at night that kept the relay on schedule.


Although, in bigger cities and the last few nights in Texas, we were met with large crowds that walked the normal five miles in two hours distance that the day-shift leg captains would do.

The night shift would end our routes at 8 a.m., and for most mornings, the national Anthem would be playing over the bull horn as we pass off the flag to the next shift.

Then, the day shift would take over, walking two hours, approximately five mile, with two leg captains.

On the second day of the relay, outside of New York City on Staten Island at Rescue 5, we stopped and enjoyed a meal with the firefighters. They let us try on their gear and then prompted us to run up the three flights of stairs with the gear on. When we reached the top, out of breath, they stopped us. The firefighters explained that on September 11, 2001, they had men on the 50th floor when the towers fell. As the towers were falling down, their men were running up. That fire station lost 11 men on that one single day.

That was one of the best experiences I had the entire trip.

During the day along the pre-planned route, we would have rallies at stops along the way, where there would be food, music, and a variety of events. At these events, we met the families of soldiers, policemen, and firefighters who had died while serving. We recognized people who were killed in action. We heard the stories from family members and crew members.


This was the best part of Carry The Load - watching the pain, but also walking with people that were there to honor someone they had lost. I walked with a family that had been there to walk for their grandfather who was killed in Vietnam. The grandkids had never met him but walked with their grandmother in his honor and had been doing so for the past several years.


Some people carried literal weights for people, while others were carrying a figurative, emotional weight. Some of the family members would write names of their lost loved ones on a piece of paper and put them in our backpack. We carried the backpack the entire relay, starting light and empty, but as we made it to Dallas, it was full.


Carry The Load showed me that Memorial Day is not celebrated the right way with mattress sales and lake days, or even a long weekend. But, it’s about remembering the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave all so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have.


Background

Carry The Load is a non-profit organization that provides active ways to connect Americans to the sacrifices made daily by our nation’s military, veterans, first responders and their families.

Carry The Load was co-founded by Clint Bruce, a former Navy SEAL and war veteran, and Stephen Holley. They noticed that many people celebrated Memorial Day as a three-day weekend, rather than recognizing what the holiday was truly intended for.

What started in 2011 as a mission to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day, Carry The Load has grown to include much more. Carry The Load works to bring all Americans together to participate in honoring our nation’s heroes every day.

Mark “Dill” Driscoll and his wife Susan, past Deans of the Stafford School of Business at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, have been very active in their roles with Carry The Load.

In 2011, Driscoll was asked to come to Dallas to help create a national program for Carry the Load and The National Relay was born. In May 2012, Dill and the team stepped off from West Point and, for 27 days l, made their way walking to Dallas.

He shared that since Carry The Load started in 2011, over $25 million has been raised. The funds raised goes toward their three programs: Awareness, Continuum of Care and Education.


Today, Driscoll continues to provide support and helps recruit and train the great young people that work each year on the now four simultaneous National Relays, many of which were students at ABAC.

“Carry The Load has impacted rural Georgia already.” Driscoll shared. “We have had several ABAC students come out with us as ambassadors, or leg captains. These were life changing events that happened for these kids.”

As Driscoll talked about his time at ABAC and many students going on to serve as leg captains, he wanted to stress the impact it had. “What we do is teach leadership; one of the most important things for a leader is to be able to inspire people,” said Driscoll. “I think Carry The Load inspires a lot of people. It teaches people how to inspire others to keep going when the going gets tough.”

Though Carry The Load looks slightly different this year, the mission remains the same – to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day.

As Americans across the nation continue to walk for their loved ones, many rural Georgians are finding ways to get involved. Whether as a leg captain, or walking each day on your own, you can become involved in Carry The Load. For more information, you can visit their website.

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