Tuesday, April 04, 2017

TOP STORY >> River Trail challenge in LR

Leader staff writer

Heroes Ruck March organizers are looking for men and women with the right stuff to compete in the 15.3-mile River Trail challenge on Saturday.

There is a $200 entry fee per team of four for the Heroes Ruck March or $50 for individuals.

Easy, right? Not so fast. There’s a 35-pound ruck pack strapped to each team participant’s back, said Daniel DiMatteo, Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Central Arkansas Chapter commander and event organizer.

For people without military experience, a ruck march or forced march, is done at a fast pace, often over difficult geography conditions.

It will be “very challenging,” he said. The nonprofit group assists injured former military members and first responders and works to prevent suicides.

So far, DiMatteo said he has eight teams of fours signed up to compete, and the packs are pre-loaded so teams compete on a level marching field, so to speak. Divisions include: active duty, former military, civilian, civilian light and collegiate.

Individuals are also welcome to attempt the challenge and are able to adjust the weight to their skill level.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. at the Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave. in downtown Little Rock this Saturday. The competition starts at 8 a.m. and follows the southern River Trail route to the Big Dam Bridge. From there, marchers follow the trail along the north shore, cross the Rock Island Railroad Bridge, and end their march back at the Clinton Center.

There will be water stations every three miles, and participants are allowed to carry their own water, too, DiMatteo said.

DiMatteo said, “At each mile marker there will be a small memorial honoring fallen military and first (fire or police) responders killed in the line of duty.”

While heroes who die in the line of duty are memorialized, DiMatteo said, “It’s easy to forget those who served and were injured.”

They often suffer from and struggle with long-term physical injuries, as well as dealing with mental issues like post- traumatic stress disorder, he said.

DiMatteo, a Jacksonville police officer who was injured in the line of duty, understands the varied and difficult struggles injured people experience.

Five years ago, he and two firefighters were intentionally run down by Bryce Allen Jr.

Jacksonville Fire Capt. Donald Jones died at the scene, while firefighter Jason Bowmaster and DiMatteo were hospitalized with critical injuries.

The road to recovery was a long one for DiMatteo.

The 20-year Air Force veteran had planned to spend the second half of his career as a police officer, and although DiMatteo made several attempts to return to duty full time, it proved impossible.

But his new job with Sheep Dog Impact, which he started Jan. 1, is proving a good fit.

“It’s an organization I wholeheartedly believe in,” DiMatteo said.

Sheep Dog refers to the position the military and first responders take during an emergency, putting themselves between the public and crisis.

The organization’s mission is to engage, assist and empower the injured through camaraderie and peer support and activities such as their outdoor adventures and other programs. For example, DiMatteo went scuba diving with a Sheep Dog in Hot Springs.

He said, “It was a fantastic day.”

“It gives wounded military and first responders an opportunity to get up off the couch and get active, but that costs money,” and all the money raised by this event will go to the Sheep Dog cause.

Heroes Ruck March is a perfect opportunity for the community to get to know their local first responders and active-duty military members and “support those who serve,” DiMatteo said.

Everyone is invited to participate or to come out and cheer on the marchers, he said.

For more information about the Sheep Dog Impact Assistance Central Arkansas Chapter or to make a donation to the “Heroes Ruck March” or to sign up to compete as a team or individually, call Daniel DiMatteo at 501 259-9483.