Moe Chabuz, above left, waves to the camera with veteran Andre Cilliers by his side during 8 Tuff Miles.
With wounded Afghanistan war veteran Andre Cilliers by his side, St. John runner Maurice Chabuz began the 16th Annual 8 Tuff Miles road race in Cruz Bay on Saturday February 25, at the very back of the roughly 1,100-entrant pack.
Chabuz, who owns Skinny Legs restaurant, hasn’t kissed his running days goodbye; he ran the popular St. John race as a fundraiser for Team River Runner, collecting money from sponsors for each person he passed on his way to Coral Bay.
En route to the finish line, which he crossed after one hour, 16 minutes and 41 seconds, Chabuz passed 808 runners and walkers, and raised about $6,000 for TRR. And that figure is sure to grow as Chabuz continues to accept donations from sponsors.
TRR is a non-profit organization dedicated to supplying wounded veterans with health and healing through adaptive kayaking. The group was founded by Washington D.C. area kayak enthusiast Joe Mornini, who began teaching kayak skills to wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center pool in 2004.
Since then, TRR groups have sprung up at military hospitals across the country, mostly led by veterans who have been through the program themselves and then go on to start a new TRR chapter in their area.
A TRR group first visited St. John five years ago, staying at Cinnamon Bay Campground and taking kayak trips right off the beach. The group had to cancel their second trip, however, due to lack of funds, which is when
Chabuz was inspired to step up to the plate, or rather the starting line of 8 Tuff Miles.
A veteran runner who has hoofed it in marathons from New York to Oregon, Chabuz decided to lace up his sneakers for the 8 Tuff Miles that year for a reason.
“When I heard the group couldn’t afford to come down, I had to help in some way,” said Chabuz.
Collecting money from sponsors for each person he passed along the race route, that first race netted $10,000 for TRR. So did the second race and Chabuz is still confident that he’ll reach his $10,000 goal this year as well.
“We sent in over $6,000 already and we have another $1,000 in hand and more coming in,” said Chabuz. “We’re hoping to reach $10,000 again.”
Chabuz wasn’t expecting to finish the race as quickly has he did, he explained.
“Andre is a runner, but he usually runs on flats, so I thought I was going to be waiting for him on the hills,” said Chabuz. “But he was the one running backwards up the hills waiting for me. But he is less than half my age.”
Cilliers helped Chabuz shave about two minutes off last year’s race time and likely passed a few more runners as well.
“I want to thank all of the walkers for making it easier for us to pass,” said Chabuz. “That was a big help.”
While many people pledged anything from a dime to a dollar for each person Chabuz passed in the race, many other simply donated to the cause, he explained.
“A lot of people just came up to us after the race and were giving us donations and asking how to donate,” said Chabuz.
Cilliers, who took a shot in the shoulder during his tour of duty, ran with an arm brace, which gave some people the wrong impression, explained Chabuz.
“A lot of people thought he was running with a broken arm,” he said. “I think he gets that all the time. But he was shot in the shoulder and he’s going to go back to the Middle East as a civilian employee in the future.”
TRR will be back on St. John in November with a new group of wounded veterans, sure to enjoy the island’s healing waters. And it’s still not too late to help make their trip a little easier by donating to Chabuz’s effort.
Checks can be made out to Team River Runner and sent to P.O. Box 654, St. John, VI, 00830, or dropped off at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay. For more information check out the website www.skinnylegs.com and click on the “Help Us Help Our Veterans” link.