by Dan Joyce, Marathon Sports Norwell staff member

When Dave first walked into our store, there was a shared feeling of anticipation amongst the staff. As a group we had all been looking forward to the chance to work with the students from the North River Collaborative. But as introductions were made, it became apparent that we all had separate ideas of what to expect. Perhaps it was strange that the guy behind this was just, another guy. He could have been a regular customer of ours stopping by to check out the new model of his favorite shoe.

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Joseph, Cristian, Jake, Shane, & Joshua with their new Winter Warrior shirts!

As the kids came in though, our own expectations seemed to exit the room. I had prepared a list of questions I thought essential to make a great story. One by one they seemed less important as Dave introduced the kids.

The smiles they wore were contagious. I’ve worked a lot of different events in that store but none had the feeling of this. You can plan out these events in your head all you want, but sometimes none of that matters when you have that tangible moment in front of you. In many ways, that’s how the Winter Warrior Challenge goes.

For those of you that don’t know, the North River Collaborative is a multi purpose special education program designed as an extension of the school district. It provides programs for more than 200 hundred students with disabilities from ages 3-22. Dave and his group are based out of the Learning Center High School Program at West Bridgewater.

After some sneaker fitting and some much anticipated pizza eating, I got to sit down with Dave and talk about his group of students and what they did.

Everyone has their reasons for signing up for the Winter Warrior Challenge. Dave, along with his amazing staff of Amanda and Ann, had heard about the challenge and had wanted to give it a try. If you completed the challenge yourself, you may find their names next to yours in the bronze section.

It was about progress through every step. Every ten miles, the students would get to put a boot on the wall. A symbol of another step forward in their challenge.

When asked about the kids’ reaction to the challenge, Dave responded honestly that there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement at first. Why should it though? To them it was just an idea that didn’t hold much value.

Anyone can sign up for the Winter Warrior Challenge. The true satisfaction comes from seeing your mileage grow. Seeing that chain of consecutive days stretch on farther than you would’ve imagined. That’s a feeling that any runner or walker, no matter your level, can relate to.

What Dave, Amanda, and Ann wanted was something real for the kids. Something they could see. Something Tangible.

Like any smart training group they started small. Some of the kids had been walking a lot in class, but Dave, Ann, and Amanda felt getting out of the classroom was essential for the students. As I’m sure many other fellow Winter Warriors did, they started with one mile walks outside the school campus. From there it was about progress through every step. The group steadily built on their mileage while keeping track of it in the classroom. Every ten miles, the students would get to put a boot on the wall. A symbol of another step forward in their challenge.

When the group came in together, there was a visible bond. Anyone in the room could see the connection the kids had not only with each other, but also with Dave, Amanda, and Ann.

Dave took the aspect of making the challenge real to another level with the help of a cool interactive idea. With some of his other groups in the past, he had set goals of walking the mileage to New York City. This time their team decided to walk the Appalachian Trail. Through an interactive website he was able to show the students where they would be on the trail based on the miles they had put in. For a familiar aspect, they started the trail in reverse, heading down from Maine. Their goal was to reach 300 miles.

As the cold winter days went by, the challenge grew, and so did the team’s miles. One of the highlights of the challenge came in their longest walk of the winter. After a steady build up, the team went for a seven and half mile walk along the Cape Cod Canal.

One of the goals of the North River Collaborative this summer is to take something visual and make it real. Rather than look at the Appalachian Trail from the pixels of a computer screen, Dave hopes to get the kids actually on the trail. He is hoping to get his team out to Western Mass and set foot to trail, for what could be their longest walk yet.

Runners and walkers alike know there is a certain camaraderie inherent in our sport. There is always an indescribable feeling amongst those that are part of a fundraising team or are long time members of a club. There is always the common goal: to get better. Goals often differ from person to person, but sharing them amongst teammates is a feeling everyone can relate to.

When the North River Collaborative came in together there was a visible bond. Anyone in the room could see the connection the kids had not only with each other, but also with Dave, Amanda, and Ann. The challenge helped to create a team atmosphere. The team was walking as part of something shared among runners and walkers from all over the state. Like many other Winter Warriors, they checked to see where they stacked up against the fellow challengers. And like many others, they were very impressed by overall winner Brian Tjersland’s mileage.

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Dave Ash, the group’s fearless leader

The goal of something real culminated this past week in our Norwell Store. The kids came in for the same prize as the rest of the Winter Warriors: shirts with their names on the back. To an outsider that may sound funny, but to anyone who put in the miles, they know the feeling of grabbing that shirt with your name on it. It’s about seeing your name next to those who worked alongside you every step. Celebrating the memories you created in the process. It’s about seeing what you worked for in your hands. Something you can hold. Something real.

And what better way to signify a team than to have matching shirts?

After a challenge like that there is always a moment of levity that leaves you unsure of what to do next. Do you continue or find something else? Time to rest or push on? Many of us will continue on into spring races, marathons, halfs, track meets, etc. There is one thing you can be sure of as you’re out putting the miles in this summer: the kids from the North River Collaborative, along with Dave, Amanda, and Ann, will be out there walking.