Editorial: Rower’s commitment aids John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst is shown with his Little River Heritage 18-foot rowing skiff April 11 at the Sportsman's Marina in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami to New York City as a fundraiser for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will open in downtown Amherst later this year to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Honoring a friend while testing his own endurance motivates Jim Brassord to row 1,400 miles along the eastern seaboard to support the new John P. Musante Health Center in Amherst.

Brassord’s quest is particularly impressive because — except for the first day when he will be joined for a short time by his father — it will be a solo effort, with no support team. As Brassord says, it’s the ultimate test of self-sufficiency.

Brassord, 56, begins the journey Monday from Miami. His 88-year-old father, Ron, an avid rower, will row alongside him for a few miles in the Fort Lauderdale area. From there, Jim Brassord will be on his own, rowing his 18-foot Little River Heritage fiberglass skiff up the Intracoastal Waterway. The journey will include about 1,100 miles of protected inland water, and 300 miles of open water. Brassord expects to row between six and 10 hours daily for about 50 days, although weather and his body will determine the length of his stay on the water until he reaches New York City.

In Amherst, the new health center will be taking shape on the lower level of the Bangs Community Center. Renovations by Wright Builders of Northampton start with a ceremonial groundbreaking at 9 a.m. Friday. The $2.4 million project, including medical and dental equipment, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

A satellite of the Hilltown Community Health Center, which has clinics in Huntington and Worthington, it will provide services for low-income residents, people who are homeless, immigrants without legal documents, and others lacking health insurance. An estimated 2,700 patients each year will use the clinic, which will have 13 people on staff.

The center is named for Musante, who died in September 2015 while serving as Amherst town manager. He long had advocated for coordinated medical, dental and behavioral care for residents, regardless of their ability to pay. “For two decades members of the community and local service organizations have worked to address this need and John was instrumental in bringing these plans to fruition,” Eliza Lake, executive director of the Hilltown center, said in 2015 when she announced the Amherst clinic’s name.

Brassord, the chief of campus operations at Amherst College, was intrigued by the idea of using his training as a marathon runner and triathlete to benefit the center in memory of his friend Musante. “That intersection, to me, was compelling,” said Brassord, who will be on a two-month leave from the college during his journey. “I’m hoping to feel exhilarated to contribute to the health center and to do something important for a while.”

He has completed 20 marathons and five Ironman Triathlon competitions, and began training on indoor rowing machines during the winter. On recent weekends, he has spent hours rowing on the Connecticut River.

Brassord hopes to raise the last $100,000 needed for the health center, and earlier this month had received about two-thirds of that in pledges by community donors and business sponsors. “It’s just really resonated for what it means for the community, particularly in these times,” Brassord says.

We salute Jim Brassord’s spirited commitment to a good cause and wish him smooth stroking as he rows up the East Coast.