Saturday, May 2, 2015
A Walk to Remember
I knew that, in fact, Rich had arrived at school having volunteered to help supervise a homeless shelter in his hometown overnight. If he seemed less concerned with his own appearance, it was because he was more concerned with providing a warm meal and a safe bed for others in need. At school, he kept his work at the shelter to himself and asked me not to mention it to anyone. That selfless volunteer spirit spoke to who Rich was.
It came as no surprise to me, then, when Rich began to talk last year about wanting to walk more than 1,200 miles from Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. That grand plan spoke of who he still is.
Rich Albero is sixty-five years old now, retired several years from high school teaching and just this past year from teaching math at St. Petersburg College, not far from his home in Dunedin, Florida. Having travelled around the world as a young seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine, Rich was later to take other trips of note with his nephew Gary Albero—a memorable excursion to the Grand Canyon, for example, or a drive up to Boston to cheer his beloved Yankees as they battled the Red Sox at Fenway.
But now, his grandest of journeys, this trek from Tampa to the Bronx is a tribute to Gary, who died in the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. True to Rich and Gary’s generous spirits, the walk is also raising donations to the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Yankees organization has been very supportive of his walk. In the first week of March, Rich started his journey from home plate at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, where in the midst of spring training the Yankees gave him an enthusiastic send-off. “See you in New York,” manager Joe Girardi said with a hug.
With some help from a few sponsors—ionic sportwater, Brooks shoes, Tilley hats, Wyndham Hotels, and Wish You Were Here Productions, among others—Rich is now well past the half-way point of his journey. Calling on a small cadre of close friends or family as his support drivers, he recently made his way north through the Carolinas one step at a time. Now, in early May, with more than 800 miles behind him, he has reached the rolling hills of Richmond, Virginia.
As he approaches Washington, D.C., I’m to join Rich as his support driver for a week. He’ll rise before dawn, do his morning exercises, then wake me for breakfast. Next, I’ll drive him to where he had ended the previous day’s walk, and he’ll resume his journey, aiming for another twenty miles that day. Around noon, Rich will call to tell me his location. Along with an afternoon’s supply of sportwater, I’ll bring his lunch and a bucket of ice water to soak his feet mid-day. Following that, he’ll resume his walk until late afternoon or early evening, when I’ll pick him up and drive him to our next hotel. After a hearty dinner, it’ll be early to bed and up again before dawn.
Rich hopes to reach New York City by Memorial Day weekend. There he will lay a commemorative wreath beneath Gary’s name at Ground Zero. He will end his walk with a ceremony at home plate before a game at Yankee Stadium, a fitting conclusion to a selfless journey by a sixty-five-year-old Yankee fan who walked more than 1,200 miles from spring training to a home game in the Bronx to honor his nephew and our wounded warriors.