Dartmouth College is like many small communities. The personal relationships forged through “shared experience” last a lifetime.
Every class at Dartmouth starts its journey with a Freshman Trip, where classmates get acquainted while immersed in the outdoors. Students reconvene on campus for sophomore summer. By the time junior year is in full swing, however, “Camp Dartmouth” becomes a more diffuse environment as students drift apart in the hustle and bustle of pursuing their summer internships, majors, and career paths. Life, and its daily distractions, takes over.
Dartmouth College Class of ’15 was grappling with Real Life during winter of 2014, when two student athletes tragically passed away a mere five weeks apart. In February, Torin Tucker, a Nordic athlete from Sun Valley, ID, died from a rare heart anomaly while competing in a 50K race. Blaine Steinberg, recruited as a lacrosse athlete, died suddenly in March, also of a heart attack brought on by a rare autoimmune disease.
Both horrific losses rocked and united the college community. “Their deaths brought us together, and forced us to step back,” says Adam Fishman, Dartmouth lacrosse athlete, Class of 2015. “The experience reminded us that people are special.” Fishman and classmates rallied to create an end of the year event that culminated in a rich, shared experience celebrating Blaine and Torin’s indomitable energy. “Both were such genuine people, and individually loved to get after it physically,” explains Blaine’s former roommate and Field Hockey athlete Janine Leger ’15.
From this, the Memorial Challenge—a community workout circuit on Dartmouth’s Memorial Field, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend—was born. The event, which falls right before Finals, carries a message aimed at even the busiest students: “Remember, Challenge, Reflect.”
The Challenge is a circuit of 17 timed stations. Exercises reflect both Blaine and Torin’s interests: there are squats and running (in honor of Torin), Burpees (in honor of Blaine), and old favorites like planks and pushups. The entire workout lasts about 30 minutes, with the challenge level set by each individual. “It is not a race, or a competition,” explains Adam, “but a way to come together and create a personal challenge.” Even more important than the workout is the “hang-out” afterwards. “The reflective piece is critical,” says Adam.
It’s also a fundraiser. That first year, organizers hoped to engage 200 people and raise a few thousand dollars. Adam and Janine both had connections with Positive Tracks through their involvement with other charitable athletic events, so they reached out for and received help. “We were learning as we went,” says Janine. On May 23, 2015, 458 people turned up and raised over $70,000 for athlete cardiac research and services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Heart and Vascular Center (HVC).
“Everything exceeded our expectations,” says Janine. Positive Tracks was so inspired and touched by the student-led Memorial Challenge effort that it helped to conceive the Positive Tracks U23 Challenges Program, where youth choose the cause and the athletic endeavor, and Positive Tracks helps make it all happen – from providing tools like electronic fundraising pages, insurance, and community outreach, or helping youth learn how to conceive and pitch ideas, host and build their own athletic events and teams.
The format opens up a universe of new possibilities for youth to support the causes that matter most to them. “We’re very excited about this youth driven platform to activate, support, and incentivize kids to get active and give back on their own terms and turf,” says Ray Shedd, Positive Tracks Director of Partnerships and Marketing.
When Adam and Janine graduated, they tapped two Dartmouth undergrads to take on the challenge of 2016 Memorial Challenge leadership roles. Mary O’Connell, captain of Dartmouth Women’s Nordic team, and Kristen Hinckley, a Dartmouth lacrosse athlete from Blaine’s hometown in Pennsylvania, knew it was a lot to add to their full athletic and academic schedule, but they also knew from experience the power of giving back. After struggling during her sophomore year, Mary credits community service with getting her back on track. “After that, I decided I want to do something more than be a skier at Dartmouth,” says Mary.
The 14-member Memorial Challenge Organization Committee endeavored to reach beyond the athletic community to the entire campus. And, as Mary explains, they brought their own style to the weekly meetings. “Kristen really wanted to keep it fun and social, and to create relationships that went beyond putting on an event. Some of these people are now my best friends on campus.”
And this year, the event was an official Positive Tracks U23 Challenge. Mary and Kristen asked Positive Tracks for help with everything from website, timeline, and registration logistics, to collecting funds and engaging with community. “Positive Tracks was so helpful with all the behind the scenes stuff,” says Kristen, adding that the calming presence gave them confidence. This year the event again exceeded expectations, raising over $95,000 for the HVC. “We couldn’t have had this great success without Positive Tracks,” says Kristen.
Looking forward, Adam stresses the importance that “values and purpose breathe into every aspect of what we do with this event.” Even the way it comes together—with a super busy undergrad doing something special—is “in step with our vision to foster personal development, leadership development and community development.” This year, Adam and Janine also sparked and developed satellite alumni events in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., San Diego and San Francisco to explore growing the event beyond geographical boundaries.
Leadership is mindful of sustainability on campus. “The event will need to shift focus from Torin and Blaine as individuals, to what they were all about,“ Kristen explains. “Torin and Blaine both took the time to stop and talk; to connect; and to live life full blast and in the moment, cherishing every day.” Mary elaborates: “The purpose of the event will always be to take a moment out of our busy lives and just show up. Just be together.”