Resident walks Boston Marathon route for veterans

Apr 21, 2021

Although this year the Boston Marathon didn’t take place on Patriots Day — it was postponed to the fall due to the pandemic — one Dartmouth resident completed the 26-mile route over the weekend anyway.

Jason Ray can often be spotted walking through Dartmouth to raise awareness of veteran suicide and other mental health issues for the nonprofit Mission 22.

He completed a 22-mile ruck — a walk with a pack or other gear — last year for Veterans Day, raising more than $4,000 for the cause.

This year the former US Army serviceman is training for an even longer hike: On Memorial Day weekend, he will be walking the 65 miles from Boston Common to Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne with a campaign called Vest Up 4 the Fallen.

“We start at midnight on Sunday, and go straight through into Monday,” he said. “It’s estimated we’ll reach the cemetery early to mid-morning. The total moving time I think is around 26 hours.”

Ray decided to do the walk after Veterans Day, when he found the group of veterans on Facebook talking about it. 

The group plans to take breaks, but will not sleep during the ruck.

“I said, ‘This is a horrible idea. Where do I sign up?’” he laughed.

To train for the long walk, he walked the marathon route with a 30-pound pack and several others from the campaign on April 17, starting off in Hopkinton in the rain at 7 a.m. and finishing just before 5 p.m.

“It was a great day,” Ray said. “On Monday, I could barely move my legs.”

“That terrain is so diverse, it really gives an idea of what the terrain will be like for 65 miles,” he added. “It was hard. Definitely very hard. I do not envy anybody who has run that route!”

Ray decided to start walking to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health after he lost a close friend, Marine Corps veteran, Paul Lablanc, in 2014.

“He was a decorated Gulf War veteran, and he overdosed in his kitchen,” Ray said with emotion. “It affected me for a long time. I always thought, ‘I should have done more.’”

“Instead of reaching out, he secluded himself,” he noted. “Not everybody reaches out. Sometimes you have to do the reaching.”

So Ray began walking — and he hasn’t stopped since, not even after a Dartmouth resident spotted him walking through town and called the police on him a couple of weeks ago, he said with a laugh. 

Instead he and his wife Genevieve set up a Facebook page last week to raise awareness of his rucks and the mission behind them.

“We’re trying to get the community more involved,” he noted. “It’s actually working! I get so much positivity from it.”

On April 22, Ray will be doing a group training ruck at UMass Dartmouth, with an open invite to anyone who wants to join for even just a few miles.

So far, he said five people have signed up, with a few others interested.

And although it’s great exercise, the main goal is never far from Ray’s mind.

“Really, it’s for veterans,” he said. “We even named the Facebook page ‘Walking for veterans.’ That’s our main mission, is making sure that we can put the message out there.”

Especially with troops coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, he added, “our veterans need us now more than ever.”