By David Christopher
Twenty-six miles. Nearly the distance from the Cape Coral Bridge to the Sanibel Lighthouse. Most who opt to travel that distance do so by vehicle. Al Rich, a Cape Coral resident and financial advisor with the Nolte Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Fort Myers, chose to run that distance. He was one of the 26,948 athletes who participated in the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Al ran not for himself, but as a member of the #SimmondsStrong team. This is a group in memory of Dennis Simmonds, a Boston Police officer wounded during the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. DJ, as he was called, suffered a traumatic head injury during a shootout with the suspects, an injury that later caused the fatal brain aneurysm that ended his life. DJ passed away just days before he was to receive a National Association of Police Organizations Top Cop Award.
Despite his connection to the events of the Boston Bombing, Dennis Simmonds is not mentioned as one of those who died in the tragedy. His name is conspicuously absent from both the memorial to the fallen and the 2016 film “Patriot Day.”
“I never wanted to run a marathon before,” said Rich, a former high school, and college athlete, “but upon hearing DJ’s story, I knew I needed to do anything I could to help the family out.” Al, a veteran officer himself, served 10 years as Patrol Sergeant with the Laramie Police Department, in Wyoming.
Al heard the story of the “Forgotten Officer” through a colleague.
Learning that shortly after Simmonds’ death his sister Nicole had founded a scholarship in her brother’s name, Rich felt compelled, as a brother in blue, to run to raise money for the charity. He also wanted to bring awareness of Simmonds’ tragic death. Al Rich asked for, and received, a spot in the race within days.
“Simmonds’ story tugged at my heart. Everyone who puts on that badge or works in a department becomes part of a family. We never forget when an officer gives their life in the service of others. Never,” Rich said. “The pain that the Simmonds family has gone through is unimaginable. I simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity to help him get the recognition he deserves.”
Rich, when he runs, usually tracks 3-4 miles, 3 times a week. He began seriously training for the marathon late last year, despite persistent knee problems and other injuries. He increased his running, peaking at thirty-eight miles in one week. His training included using bridges to develop the stamina needed to conquer the challenge of “Heartbreak Hill,” occurring 20 miles into the race. This steep incline rising half a mile, as well as the succession of little hills that follow over the next four miles, make up the toughest stretch on the Boston Marathon course. It is this final leg that is especially punishing to the runners’ legs.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but that’s not the point,” Rich said. “This is about supporting the Simmonds family, as well as everyone who risks their life to serve our communities.”
“When I ‘hit the wall’”, as runners say when things grow toughest, “and my body begged me to quit, I thought about DJ, how much he would love to be here today, feeling anything; how his family would love to see him again. This alone gave me the motivation to finish.”
Rich also chose to run the race because of what this would mean to his kids.
“We are a service-oriented family. We give to charity and help where we can. I wanted to model this attitude for my kids.”
While they did not attend the race, Karmen (10) and Garett (7), cheered their dad on in spirit. Rich also drew inspiration from his wife, Erica, as well other family members who pitched in where they could to help. Upon hearing of Al’s intentions, they supported him by either accompanying him to Boston, helping with the kids, or paying his travel expenses, allowing him to focus on the task at hand.
“I would have done this in Florida or elsewhere, wherever I was needed. It just so happens that I signed up for, as a friend calls it, ‘The Superbowl of Marathons.’ This was not about me, however; it was about them,” he said, referring to the Simmonds family.
Al Rich continues to run today, a workout he now enjoys because of his experience in Boston, staying in shape, perhaps for the next race. A man of service, to his community, to his family, to his brothers-in-blue, Al Rich, a noble, yet humble paladin, awaits his next challenge, ready to give his all to help his fellow man.