An epic row to honor a friend: Amherst man to trek 1,400 miles from Miami to New York City

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst unties his Little River Heritage rowing skiff from the dock at the Sportsman’s Marina in Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst rows a Little River Heritage skiff on the Connecticut River in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Florida, to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will be opening in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst rows a Little River Heritage skiff April 11, 2017 on the Connecticut River in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Fla., to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will be opening in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst is shown with his Little River Heritage rowing skiff April 11, 2017 at the Sportsman's Marina in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Fla., to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will be opening in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst rows a Little River Heritage skiff April 11, 2017 on the Connecticut River in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Fla., to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will be opening in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Jim Brassord of Amherst rows a Little River Heritage skiff Tuesday on the Connecticut River in Hadley. Brassord plans to row from Miami, Florida, to New York City as a fundraising initiative for the John P. Musante Health Center, which will open in downtown Amherst in the fall to provide primary medical and dental care to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2017 6:52:53 PM

Preparing to row the equivalent of a marathon or more every day for 50 straight days, Jim Brassord will soon embark on solo journey, along much of the eastern seaboard, that will test the limits of his endurance.

But it’s a 1,400-mile quest that the chief of campus operations at Amherst College says is well worth pursuing, not only for the challenge he will get from it, piloting his 18-foot Little River Heritage rowing skiff for between six and 10 hours daily, but for the money and awareness he is raising for the John P. Musante Health Center.

“That intersection, to me, was compelling,” Brassord said, observing that the college granted him a two-month leave after he developed the idea for the Miami to New York City row. “I’m hoping to feel exhilarated to contribute to the health center and to do something important for a while.”

Having previously completed 20 marathons and five Ironman Triathlon competitions, finishing the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2003, Brassord, 56, said the row should be an epic adventure for his athleticism that also benefits the community and honors the memory of his friend Musante. Musante was Amherst’s town manager for five years until his unexpected death in September 2015.

Expected to open by the end of the year at the Bangs Community Center, and operate as a satellite of the Hilltown Community Health Centers, the new health center will serve low-income residents, homeless individuals, undocumented immigrants and others without health insurance. It will serve an estimated 2,700 patients and have 10,200 primary and preventive medical and dental health care visits annually.

Brassord said he first became aware of the role the health center will play in Amherst when Hilltown Executive Director Eliza Lake came to a meeting of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce board.

Lake said Hilltown is trying to raise $2.4 million, and are within $100,000 of meeting this goal as it plans a groundbreaking April 28 at 9 a.m. Hilltown recently signed a contract with Wright Builders of Northampton to handle the build out and be ready for a December opening.

Brassord’s row is critical to finishing the fundraising.

“It’s helping us get to the end,” Lake said. “I’m blown away by Jim’s generosity that will help us get that last bit done.”

Stephanie O’Keeffe, who has served as chairwoman of the fundraising committee, said Brassord’s effort is drawing people’s interest because of the enormity of such a personal challenge.

“It’s incredibly generous of Jim to do this, and of Amherst College to allow him the opportunity,” O’Keeffe said. “All of this reflects what ‘it takes a village’ means in our community, and John would love that.”

The awareness for the John P. Musante Health Center is also a gift of its own, O’Keeffe said.

“It makes people want to learn more about the project and its mission, and about their opportunity to support it,” she said.

Picking up the oars

Brassord has been rowing for a decade and was inspired to take up the sport by his daughter, Hannah, who was a student rower at Connecticut College.

To prepare for the May 1 launch, Brassord trained on indoor rowing machines over the winter, being able to get onto open water during mild weather in February. He is again back outdoors, using the Connecticut River and other bodies of water, and in recent weekends has spent several hours rowing on portions of the river, even with its high water and fast current.

When Brassord gets to Miami, he will be seen off at the launch of the boat by his life partner, Julie Johnson, and his parents. The journey will be entirely a solo venture, with no chase boat or support team, except for during the first day, when Brassord will be joined by his father, Ron.

The elder Brassord, 88, is an avid rower and will row alongside his son for a few miles in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Brassord will take a route up the Intracoastal Waterway, with about 1,100 miles protected inland, easily navigable by his board, and about 300 miles in more challenging open water. The fiberglass boat can be used under many conditions, including the open water such as the Chesapeake Bay, though there he will likely circumnavigate the area using a network of rivers that connect to the Chesapeake and Delaware canals.

How long the row takes will depend on weather conditions and how his body responds to the daily toll.

During the course of the row, people will be able to visit the website Miami2nyc.com to get updates and follow along on the row with a GPS tracker on board. Brassord said he’ll also periodically use a GoPro camera to film segments. Photovoltaics will be used to recharge the electronics.

With no one else on board, Brassord said it’s the ultimate in being self-sufficient. A canvas tarp cover will be put over the bow of the boat when he needs a place to sleep and can’t get on shore. If he does dock the boat, he’ll pitch a tent wherever he is. Those brief times on land will also give an opportunity to restock food and water.

The main food items on board will be used to give him energy. “Boxes and boxes of PowerBars and Snickers,” Brassord said.

In recent weeks, Brassord put together the website and social media presence, and has gotten some attention through the word of mouth.

“The community has really gotten behind it, people are intrigued,” Brassord said.

He set a goal of $100,000, and already $66,000 has been pledged by donors and business sponsors.

Brassord said he feels hisjourney is coming during a period when many people are made anxious by national politics and want to help their fellow.

“It’s just really resonated for what it means for the community, particularly in these times,” Brassord said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

© 2019 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy