Army reservist Kim Belskis walks, runs, crosses home for returning veterans
By Châu Mai
Her first time participating in the Run to Home Base in 2010, she ran the 5.6 miles in 63 minutes and raised $1,020.
The second time, she hit the finish line at the 61st minute and raised $1,223.
The third time, on this past May 20, she crossed Fenway Park’s home plate after 59 minutes, and has nearly doubled last year’s fundraising.
Kim Belskis of Medfield was among 2,000 participants of the third annual Run-Walk to Home Base to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.
“I am running to show them [returning veterans] that there is always support when they come home,” said Belskis, a motor transport operator in the Army National Guard, serving in E Company 3rd/126th Aviation out of Camp Edwards, near Barnstable.
Sponsored by New Balance, the Run-Walk to Home Base is a nine-kilometer fundraising run and three-mile walk through Boston, starting and ending at Fenway Park.
It honors veterans and their families, and raises funds for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, which provides clinical care to military service members, veterans and families with combat stress and traumatic brain injury throughout New England.
“This year, we had over 350 active-duty military service members participate,” said Catherine A. Moore, the Home Base Program’s community events and social media manager.
In honor of their service, active soldiers had no fundraising requirement and were asked to pay only a small registration fee, Moore said.
A walking component was added to this year’s event, she said.
Belskis ranked 940th among 1,485 participants, and was the only one from Medfield, according to the program’s website.
That her friends and colleagues serving overseas were completely different people when they came home is what drove Belskis to sign up for the Run to Home Base in 2010, its inaugural year, she said.
“I can’t talk to them about certain things,” said Belskis, who has had some 20 friends and colleagues sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.
She said her friends had underlying issues, and “they feel like they can’t talk to anybody about it.”
It is estimated that up to 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experience the “invisible wounds of war” like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, according to the Home Base Program.
During its first three years, Moore said, the Run-Walk to Home Base has raised about $7 million. All of the money supports the Home Base Program, which also offers education for clinicians and the community about the challenges faced by military families and research in the understanding and treatment of post-traumatic stress and TBI.
“When they [her friends] come home, they face post-traumatic stress and brain injury,” said Belskis, who has never been to Afghanistan or Iraq since joining the army reserves while still in college four years ago.
“I am running to show that there are supports back home and they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to somebody else,” she said.
Veteran Michael Demers, a close friend of Belskis’ from her hometown of North Attleboro, appreciates her participation in the Run-Walk to Home Base.
The program, he said, is “an excellent reminder that those who have made sacrifices for our country will not be forgotten once they return home from their tours of service.”
Demers, who returned from his second overseas tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan, last November, said, “By being a participant in this event, she has directly provided resources to veterans suffering from both the emotional and physiological scars that being in combat produces.”
Belskis found her participation this year especially meaningful.
This time, she actually held a fundraiser, which succeeded beyond her expectations because it attracted several local businesses.
“There was just an outpouring of donations,” she said. “We raised $1,400 in that one night.”
“The thing [that] touched me the most was the outpouring of support that you never expect,” she said.
So even though the event happened last month, donations are still pouring in. As of June 8, Belskis had raised $2,158, well beyond her target of $1,500, according to her fundraising webpage, http://bit.ly/KQ89lB.
Seeing what she’s done in the last Run to Home Base program, she said, her friends overseas “feel there’s more support from home now.”
And next year? Belskis plans to get a team of at least five colleagues to run with her, and is setting her fundraising goal at $5,000.
“I am aiming for under 50 minutes for next year,” Belskis said.