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Runners Head Toward Fenway’s Home Base to Benefit Veterans

  • Robert Farnsworth, hunting in Vermont while on leave from the Army in 2011. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Robert Farnsworth, of Royalton, hikes with his dog Armina in Vermont in 2015. Farnsworth plans to participate in the Run to Home Base on July 28, 2018 in Boston. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Shelly Messenger, of Bradford, Vt., runs in a road race. She's going to participate in the Run to Home Base in Boston on July 28, a yearly event run for the benefit of veterans. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2018

Royalton resident and former Army sniper Robert Farnsworth plans to wear a field pack weighing 40 pounds while running 5½ miles around Boston’s Back Bay and into Fenway Park next Saturday.

North Haverhill resident Shelly Messenger, who also plans to join the 2018 Run to Home Base, will shoulder a different kind of burden: the memory of loved ones who served and often suffered in recent wars, and of her years holding the fort at home while her kids’ father fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“No field pack; my gut’s enough of a load,” Messenger said with a laugh Thursday night, after a supper-hour workout at the gym. “I have a badge I wear on my ID bracelet for every run or bike I do.

“I carry my support for my vets with me in every race.”

Helping veterans, and the families of veterans and active-duty personnel, deal with medical and other needs, is the focus of Home Base, a program that the Red Sox Foundation set up with Massachusetts General Hospital in 2009. Home Base also trains clinicians, teachers and volunteers to handle their clients’ needs.

The first Run to Home Base took place in 2010, and over the ensuing years the gathering-in-motion has raised $15 million in pledges. For this year’s run, Farnsworth and Messenger each raised $550.

“I got emails from the Red Sox Foundation, and decided it was time to try,” Farnsworth said on Wednesday. “It really piqued my interest.”

Along with his pack, Farnsworth, who grew up in Chester, Vt., will carry recollections of Specialist Patrick Gibbs and Sgt. James Lyons. Both comrades from his sniper unit survived the perils of Iraq, only to take their lives after returning to civilian life with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I have a couple of mental scars,” said Farnsworth, now in his early 30s. “Mentally, a lot of us who made it back are in pieces.

“It’s a battle every day.”

Returning to his home state, where his father took him deer hunting starting at age 4 and where his mother taught him to shoot, has helped Farnsworth put the pieces back together. After mustering out of the Army in 2013, he spent summers cutting stone for patios and walkways at a cousin’s quarry in Perkinsville and winters overseeing ski lifts at Okemo Mountain Resort. More recently, he has been working as an overnight security guard at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

“I love Vermont,” said Farnsworth, who wrestled and played baseball at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester for three years before finishing his schooling in Pennsylvania. “Where my wife (Chantelle) and I live now, we’re surrounded by nobody, which is great. We go hiking all over with our dogs, three or four or five miles at a time, whenever we can.

“A lot of people go to church. The woods — that’s where I go to church.”

Messenger, a three-sport athlete who graduated from Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., in 1989, discovered a taste for endurance sports around the time the youngest of her three children graduated from Oxbow in 2013. There wasn’t much time for recreation while she worked part time for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and later the Bradford Police Department in the 1990s.

While her husband and Oxbow classmate Ralph Messenger deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan win the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she found herself tending the needs of their two growing daughters and one son and all other household duties. The strain from those years of multiple deployments, Shelly Messenger said, contributed to their eventual divorce.

Messenger also has a nephew, one of two who fought overseas, who is still recovering from injuries sustained when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Iraq. As soon as she read about the Run to Home Base on Facebook this past winter, she signed up, in solidarity with her nephews and other members of her family who served in previous wars, and with families of veterans trying to cope on the home front.

“I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before,” Messenger said. “It came completely out of the blue.”

It came just as Messenger, who also runs half-marathons and Spartan obstacle-course races around the country for charitable causes, was looking for a way to get back into shape for the coming season.

“I really don’t like running that much, but when I’m done I always feel better, and I like good causes,” she said. “They have to mean something. They’re not about me.”

Messenger hasn’t had as much time as she’d like to prepare for the Run to Home Base lately, what with her duties as assistant manager of Life Transition Services, a nonprofit that she co-founded in 2006 to help young people with developmental disabilities and other challenges adapt to life and work in the general community.

“It’s rewarding, but it’s a lot of work,” Messenger said. “I’m hoping that this run will be a kick-start to get my training going again.”

Farnsworth has been running on weekends — including a recent 18-mile road race in Burlington — and during the week, carrying a pack containing 60-plus pounds. That’s the amount that he and his comrades routinely toted around in boot camp and on missions in Iraq.

“Everywhere you go,” he said, “you’ve got to hurry up.”

Farnsworth said he’ll take his time in and around Fenway Park on Saturday, especially while trotting onto that field of dreams for lifelong Red Sox fans.

“More than the result of the first game I went to, I remember the smell, the sights, the sounds of it,” said Farnworth, who played shortstop and left field in high school. “Fenway is an incredible place to be. I’m going to be smiling, grinning ear-to-ear.

“Getting to cross home plate, that’s an incredible opportunity.”

While online pledging for this year’s race is closed, donations to the Run to Home Base programs can be made by visiting homebase.org.