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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Running for his senior project and much more

  • Brandon Richardson runs up a hill in his Boscawen neighborhood during a run on Sunday afternoon, October 27, 2013. Richardson is a senior at Merrimack Valley and will use his senior project to raise money for James Snowden, a six-year-old with serious cerebral palsy that  is bringing a lot of medical expenses to his family. Richardson is going to run the length of New Hampshire, something he's always wanted to do as a distance runner, as the means for the fundraiser. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Brandon Richardson runs up a hill in his Boscawen neighborhood during a run on Sunday afternoon, October 27, 2013. Richardson is a senior at Merrimack Valley and will use his senior project to raise money for James Snowden, a six-year-old with serious cerebral palsy that is bringing a lot of medical expenses to his family. Richardson is going to run the length of New Hampshire, something he's always wanted to do as a distance runner, as the means for the fundraiser.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project. <br/><br/>Courtesy

    James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project.

    Courtesy

  • James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project. <br/><br/>Courtesy

    James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project.

    Courtesy

  • Brandon Richardson runs up a hill in his Boscawen neighborhood during a run on Sunday afternoon, October 27, 2013. Richardson is a senior at Merrimack Valley and will use his senior project to raise money for James Snowden, a six-year-old with serious cerebral palsy that  is bringing a lot of medical expenses to his family. Richardson is going to run the length of New Hampshire, something he's always wanted to do as a distance runner, as the means for the fundraiser. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project. <br/><br/>Courtesy
  • James Snowden, 6, gets a visit from Brandon Richardson, the Merrimack Valley senior that is raising funds to pay for Snowden's medical bills for his senior project. <br/><br/>Courtesy

Brandon Richardson’s senior project scares the heck out of him.

Terrifies him, actually, as he put it last week.

That’s because Richardson, who’s had more goals in life than a star hockey player, never takes the easy way out, and he’s not about to start now.

Next month he plans to run from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border, a distance of 215 miles, in just three days.

The money he raises will make life easier for Jimmy and Kristal Snowden of Franklin and their 6-year-old son, James, who was born with a severe case of cerebral palsy.

Money is needed for a special van, a special smoke detector, special needs. A spaghetti dinner is planned for Nov. 9 at the Boscawen Town Hall.

But while the sponsorship dollars will go toward the many expenses the family faces, running what amounts to nearly three marathons per day for three days is far from a sure thing.

And Richardson, a 17-year-old senior at Merrimack Valley High School, knows it.

“I think I can do it,” Richardson said. “I’m not the type of person who gives up, but as it gets closer, I get more nervous.”

Call him loony, call him a dreamer, call him anything you want, but don’t call him most days after school, because he’ll be out training his butt off.

The fall cross country season ended for Richardson at the state meet last Saturday at Derryfield Park in Manchester. He finished 55th with a time of 17 minutes, 56 seconds in what amounted to a walk in the park, compared to what he faces starting Nov. 15.

His high school coach, Dave Irving, laughs and calls him crazy. His mother, Tina, does, too.

They wonder if Richardson can do it in three days, but they have no doubt he’ll finish.

“It doesn’t cross my mind he can’t do it,” the coach said. “The only thing is his time limitation. In a worst-case scenario, it will take longer than he expects, but I don’t see him not making the distance.”

Added Tina, “I thought he was crazy, but when he has a goal, there is no talking him out of it. No way. Very determined.”

This is par for the course. Richardson’s course.

He’s a wiry 5-foot-7, 135 pounds, with popping biceps and a quick smile.

His passion to excel, to push himself beyond normal, safe boundaries is part of his DNA. He will graduate in June, a year early, after taking a bunch of advanced placement courses. He’ll study medicine at Penn State University and wants to be a doctor.

That vision surfaced after Richardson saw the decline of his stepgrandfather, who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease three years ago, and his grandmother, who died last year from cancer.

Richardson tenderly cared for both of them, his family said.

“That’s when he said to me that he wanted to take care of people and be a doctor,” Tina said. “He’s been aggressively pursuing it ever since.”

He started running in middle school, at age 14. Five months later, Richardson ran his first marathon in Hyannis, Mass.

Irving was one of Richardson’s middle school teachers. They had an instant bond, revealing itself during that first marathon three years ago.

At Mile 6, Richardson suddenly had a running partner.

“I surprised him,” Irving said.

Few adults know Richardson like Irving. He says he sees a lot of himself in Richardson, a kid who runs down his own paths.

“To get to know Brandon, you have to spend time with him,” Irving said. “He’s an independent kid, an independent thinker, but very self-motivated.”

His senior project defines self-motivation. Richardson wanted to run for a cause, not merely a time or a ribbon. He wanted to raise money to help someone, an individual who really needed help.

He contacted hospitals in Concord and Manchester and Lebanon, and he wrote letters, and when no one answered him, he asked for help from his father, Mark, an engineer who volunteers on a local town board.

A fellow board member suggested the Snowden family. James Snowden was stillborn and resuscitated after birth.

A sign in front of the Snowden home warns against knocking on the door, because noises of a certain volume or pitch create seizures in which James clenches up tight, his muscles contracting. Even placing a glass on a hard surface can trigger what’s called a startle seizure.

Also, James’s neurons are forever firing while he sleeps, preventing his brain from retaining anything learned during the day. Thus, James can’t speak, nor can he walk.

But he reaches his arms out when recognizing something he loves, like Richardson and that bright orange shirt he wears when visiting.

“I met them and fell in love with the family,” Richardson says. “James is an awesome kid. They are the most gracious family I’ve met in a long time. I left there smiling and knew that we had to get money to them.”

Said Jimmy Snowden, “It was clear this was more to him than just a senior project. You could see he was on a mission.”

It’s not mission impossible, Richardson says, although the physical logistics are daunting.

First, on the 15th, Richardson plans to run 24 miles, targeting four hours or less (his personal best is 3:19), then taking an hourlong break, then 24 miles, hourlong break, 24 miles, sleep.

Same thing on the 16th.

And 17th.

Richardson knows an injury is possible, and who knows what that would do to his schedule?

His family will trail him in their camper, and gift cards for restaurants and groceries have been donated. Richardson will raise $5,000 if the spaghetti dinner sells out.

He ran 80 miles a week this summer, 60 during the recently-completed fall season.

“I’m terrified, but looking forward to it,” Richardson said. “This is special for me no matter what happens, and it’s nice to make it special for someone else, too.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Bravo

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