By Ed Brennen
Garret Roberts has played baseball for as long as he can remember. The game is what led him to UMass Lowell, where he is an outfielder and right-handed pitcher for the Division I River Hawks.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the sophomore business administration
major from Stratham, New Hampshire, hasn’t been able to play the game he loves for the first time in his life.
“As a student-athlete, I’ve always been identified as a baseball player,” Roberts says. “When you have all that taken from you in an instant, you think, ‘What am I outside of the game?’ I did a lot of thinking about that this year and decided I wanted to make a change for people who are affected by everything going on.”
So Roberts and two of his hometown friends, Emmie Daswani and Adrian Delli Colli, decided to walk 120 miles — from the foot of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to Hampton Beach — over six days in December to raise money and awareness for people struggling with mental health issues.
They called the fundraiser “Highs and Lows” to represent the ups and downs that people can feel — especially during this pandemic.
“One minute you can be on top of the world and the next, you can find yourself in a bad place,” says Roberts, who completed the walk on Dec. 22 along the dormant Hampton boardwalk, where the trio was greeted by a few dozen cheering supporters.
Among them was Kristen Welch, director of development for the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI
), the nonprofit organization that will receive the more than $8,000 that Roberts and his friends raised so far through their GoFundMe
“We are so humbled and so proud of them. What an amazing thing for young people to do,” says Welch. “They’re not only raising money for us, which is important, but they’re also raising awareness of mental health and the struggles that people are facing during the pandemic.”
Roberts was inspired to organize the walk after Delli Colli held a similar event a month earlier in Nova Scotia, where he’s attending college. Branding themselves the “Concept Project
,” the three friends started seriously planning the logistics of their walk in early December.
“I thought he was insane when he told me he was going to walk 120 miles, but I’m pumped he was able to do it,” says Max Walker
, a sophomore criminal justice major from Milton, Massachusetts, who is one of Roberts’ roommates and baseball teammates — and among several UML students who showed up at the finish line. “Doing something like this is awesome. It shows people who are struggling that there are people out there who care about you.”
UML baseball coach Ken Harring
was also there to congratulate Roberts on his accomplishment.
“This is why you coach. You make an impact on kids and talk about giving back, and Garret and his friends took it upon themselves to give back with something that is directly affecting everyone in some capacity,” Harring says.
“Garret is the epitome of what we’re trying to do with UMass Lowell baseball,” Harring added. “It’s not just baseball on the field, it’s what we do off the field. We have a responsibility as a community, especially as athletes, to give back. I’m proud of him.”
When the trio set out from Pinkham Notch on the morning of Dec. 17, they were greeted by New England’s first major snowstorm of the season. While some suggested they wait out the snow, Roberts is glad they stuck to their announced schedule.
“It was actually really cool walking through the mountains on Day 1 with the snow falling and no cars on the road. It puts you in your own little world and lets you think,” says Roberts, who wore a white Timberland winter coat during the walk with ski goggles pulled over his River Hawk baseball stocking cap. “It was honestly one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had.”
The trio shared moments from their walk with hundreds of followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. On Day 3, Boston 25 News and WMUR-TV aired stories about the fundraiser.
“That’s when we saw donations skyrocket,” Roberts says. “We probably got $5,000 in the next 18 hours, which is absolutely incredible.”
Covering about 20 miles a day, the trio received food donations from well-wishers — including UML students Blake Bennett
and Riley Newell, who brought them homemade spaghetti and meatballs in Rochester, New Hampshire.
“They were pretty happy to have some hot food,” says Bennett, a sophomore business administration major from Amesbury, Massachusetts, who is also one of Roberts’ roommates and teammates. Newell is a sophomore education major from Amesbury.
As for shelter each night, the trio also relied on the kindness of others, be it friends or a local fire department.
“Everything was on the go,” Roberts says. “We had no idea where we were going to sleep every night, and that was kind of the cool thing. You got up and worried about what was most important, which was covering the distance that needed to be covered.”
While the walk started with three friends shuffling through the snow in the White Mountains, it ended with more than 50 friends and family quietly parading down Hampton Beach. People were invited to join the walk for the final 5 or 10 miles.
“To finish with so many people we’ve grown up with is absolutely incredible,” Roberts said after taking a celebratory plunge with several others in the frigid Atlantic Ocean. “I’m glad it had the impact that it did, because this is absolutely amazing.”