NORTH YARMOUTH — John Brubaker is so committed to raising awareness about the sacrifices police make that he has twice walked 50 miles in their shoes.
After trekking 50 miles a year ago from the Maine State Police barracks in Gray to its headquarters in Augusta, Brubaker and others did the “Blue Ribbon Walk” for a second year Sept. 9-10. He has raised more than $10,000 for Concerns of Police Survivors, or C.O.P.S., a nonprofit that supports families of officers killed in the line of duty.
This year’s walk, spanning the 50 miles between the Kennebunk and Topsham police stations and accompanied by police escorts, took about 20 hours, the North Yarmouth resident said in an interview Monday. Aside from “an annoying blister,” he wasn’t too sore at 9 a.m. that day, about 14 hours after the journey’s end.
Asked what it’s like to walk that far in police tactical boots instead of sneakers, Brubaker joked, “You get used to it eventually when your feet go numb,” then added that thanks to improvements in boot technology, “they feel more like a sneaker than in days of old. But it’s still not nearly as comfortable as throwing on a pair of Nikes.”
His group included about a dozen people at the start and dwindled to just him by the end of Sunday. Charlie Black, whose father of the same name was the first Maine state trooper killed in the line of duty when he died in 1964, Brubaker said, walked all 50 miles last year. Due to a schedule conflict this year, he walked 25 miles on his own Friday and 25 with Brubaker Saturday.
Groups in other states also hosted their own walks, said Brubaker, who is an executive coach for businesses and a writer with widespread online leadership.
Last year’s event had more participation – 20 groups from 17 different states – at a time when “police fatalities were very, very top of mind,” following police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Brubaker recalled. This year’s walk coincided with hurricanes Harvey and Irma, drawing attention elsewhere, he surmised.
“There are large quantities of people in those two areas with very, very pressing needs, and a lot of attention and donations went to them, and rightfully so,” Brubaker added. “… I’m just glad we were able to do as much as we have, and continue to grow it.”
Donations still came in after the walk concluded, and interested donors can aid the campaign by logging onto blueribbonwalk.com.
Although he has no direct tie to fallen police officers, many of his college teammates are in the field. After the shootings, he reconnected with them to see how they were doing.
“‘Thanks for asking; I’m doing fine,'” he said he was told. “‘Ask me how my wife and kids are doing, when I leave for work in the morning.’ I was thunderstruck by that. They used to be viewed as heroes and role models, and something turned a year or so ago, and they really became targets, and that should never be.”
His work as a leadership coach inspired the way Brubaker conducted the walks. “Leadership by example is the most important powerful form of leadership,” he said, noting that it’s easy enough to start an online fundraising campaign, but “that’s not really walking a mile in police shoes.”
“We got out and invested time,” Brubaker added, “and let these officers and their families know there are people out there who care and support them.”
The 50-mile Blue Ribbon Walk has raised more than $10,000 for Concerns of Police Survivors, or C.O.P.S., a nonprofit that supports families of officers killed in the line of duty.