By Ian Hockley
I was training for my first half marathon in New York City when Dylan was murdered. Encouraged by my friends to finish what I had started, I ran those 13.1 miles in Central Park through a haze of grief. As our lives in Sandy Hook changed utterly, running became a source of healing and camaraderie.
Our first fundraiser for the foundation was the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay in May 2013. Only one of our 12-strong team had experienced this race before. In the weeks of planning, and those intense 24 hours of running 200 miles, we bonded like family and I experienced joy once again. We even took the team’s name for Dylan’s foundation, inspired as it was by his mom’s speech at his celebration of life service.
As the years passed, the distances increased. In 2016, I was fortunate to run the New York City Marathon for the foundation, the most amazing 26.2 miles shared with 1 million people lining the streets of the 5 boroughs. This year will allow me to complete my 4th attempt, and this race never fails to energize me.
Another British ex-pat based in NC, Phil Bennett, convinced me that we should run a 50-miler together in his hometown of Raleigh. Matching each other step for step, those intense 12 hours were yet again the catalyst for a deep friendship. He and I went on to attempt the Umstead 100 every year since, always falling short of the finish but driving each other to our limits. In April 2023, I made it to 75 miles before the exhaustion and pain were more than I could bear. Phil went on to cross the finish line with 15 minutes to spare, a display of grit and determination. We both can reflect our achievements owe so much to the dedication of our five crew members who fueled and paced us along the course.
Ragnar Relays have been a staple fixture of my running calendar. Dylan’s Wings of Change continued to recruit teams, peaking in 2015 with over 120 runners and drivers on Cape Cod. The Wingman program would not exist today without the money raised by these teams. Together with Newtown resident Bob Burbank, we created the “Beer Witch Project”, a rotating roster of runners entering Ragnars across the US and in Europe, winning the Ultra/Masters category eight times (and counting). It takes a unique human to run 200 miles, but just as “a problem shared is a problem halved”, six people can endure together and complete the challenge.
The community-building aspect of running doesn’t always involve bibs, timing chips, and bagels at the end. Seven years ago my girlfriend Jennifer and I started a Santa Run, jogging between the pubs and bars in Newtown and Sandy Hook. Every year since (pandemic aside) an assortment of Mrs. and Mr. Clauses, elves, and Rudolphs have delighted the locals and raised money for the F.A.I.T.H. food pantry.
I have met athletes who run hundreds of miles a month, to people inspired to try their first 5K. In all of this, it has been the shared experience and the strive to push to the limit that has forged friendships and healed hearts.
Ian Hockley is the founder and executive director of Dylan’s Wings of Change, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to his son, one of the first-grade victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. The foundation created Wingman, an experiential learning-based program that fosters connection and empathy. Ian is a valued contributor to the Iron WeBlog.