Every November, just before their challenging journey to train for the Boston Marathon begins, the runners for Tedy’s Team — the foundation created by Tedy Bruschi and his wife, Heidi — meet for the first time at the team’s kickoff dinner. This year, they convened at Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy.
And it’s there that, for many of them, they have the outlet to talk about their experience for the first time.
In some way, every runner that’s run for Tedy’s Team has been affected by stroke or heart disease. Whether they’re a survivor, a caregiver, or running in honor of a loved one, they all come together for a common purpose, and the stories are emotional.
For Bruschi, this is the most rewarding part of what’s now been a 14-year journey; meeting his runners for the first time, and listening to their stories. It’s exactly what the former Patriots linebacker envisioned shortly after he survived a stroke in 2005 — to build a support system that may have otherwise not existed.
“That’s why the team is in the name,” Bruschi said. “That’s what I wanted to create. To give them an experience and to feel a part of a team, and feel like they’re not alone through this. Because it’s hard to talk about sometimes after you go through something that’s so devastating like stroke or heart disease.”
The stories have been so inspirational that Bruschi decided to take more action this year. He’s running the Boston Marathon for the third time this Monday after doing it in 2012 and 2014, and he’ll toe the starting line in Hopkinton alongside 48 of his Tedy’s Team teammates.
“It’s tough to be around the type of people our runners are and not get inspired,” Bruschi said. “Every single year, the stories of the stroke survivors, the heart survivors, the people who are running for their loved ones, their stroke or heart heroes, their motivation for running. These people are incredible people, they’re motivated people, they live with purpose, and it inspires me. …
“I’ve tried to form a group, a group where people can get together that have suffered adversity in their lives through stroke and heart disease, and talk about it, and run for it, and run for people, or run for themselves if they’re survivors, to be inspired by others. I think that’s what this group is. This group is very strong in that aspect, so I’m proud of what Heidi and I have created.”
Bruschi’s story is well-documented. He had just won his third Super Bowl in February 2005 when one day, he suddenly started experiencing severe headaches, loss of vision and numbness down the left side of his body — all what he later found out were classic symptoms of stroke. He was admitted to Mass. General Hospital, and after eight months of rehabilitation, he miraculously rejoined the Patriots and resumed playing football.
Bruschi played until 2008, but felt a calling and responsibility to bring awareness to stroke. He’s now been on a 14-year mission to educate on the warning signs, including the BE FAST acronym that’s become a critical teaching tool.
“I realized there’s a stigma with the word stroke sometimes,” Bruschi said. “It’s people sort of (say), ‘Whoa.’ They’re taken back when they say stroke. They thought that was just for your grandparents or the elderly, so people, they don’t really understand what it is. I think me having a stroke when I was 31 and having just won a Super Bowl, it opened a lot of people’s eyes as to what’s really possible, so I wanted to just bring awareness to it.”
Along with Tedy’s Team, he’s done just that. The group had humble beginnings in 2005, starting with just five runners, but it’s continued to grow. The team’s 49 runners have raised $537,337 of their $575,000 goal as of Tuesday, ninth-most of all Boston Marathon charities.
Bruschi is happy with the growth. He said he’s declined opportunities for bigger expansion over the years because he just wanted to slowly grow. The team has expanded to participate in the annual Falmouth Road Race, and they also do a travel marathon every year. This year, it’s the Duke City Marathon in New Mexico.
“I didn’t dream of it being huge,” Bruschi said. “I wanted to make a difference one person at a time, one survivor at a time, or one caretaker at a time. …
“I’m OK with slowly growing. It’s OK, because I learn every year about ways to make a difference through my runners and through survivors and caregivers, and what’s important to them, so it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Bruschi will also be proud to join his runners at the starting line again. After posting a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes with Heidi in 2012, then a 4:47 in 2014, he’s hoping for a 4:30 this year. He’s not sure if he’ll run it again, but he’ll certainly cherish it before heading to the Lenox Hotel after the race to celebrate all of what his teammates have achieved, too.
“My little motto has been three rings, three medals,” Bruschi said. “I don’t know how motivated I’ll be after this one. You say that before because you’re coming towards the end of it, but three rings, three medals, and that’s a heck of a ride right there.”