HOLMDEL, NJ - Saturday, September 8th marked the Dash 4 Dowd event honoring the life of Holmdel High School student Jack Dowd. After several months of careful planning orchestrated by three of Jack's classmates and friends; Alok Malhotra, Jess D'Agostino and Arun Movva, the day had come for the community to gather together showing love and support for Jack, his family and each other.
A cool drizzle continued for a time on this Saturday morning, lending a somber note to the event and how it came to be in the first place. Dash 4 Dowd was an inspiration of close friends of a young man, Holmdel High School student, Jack Dowd, whose sudden death in September of 2017 stunned the community.
On September 17, 2017, Jack, a Holmdel High School junior and varsity lacrosse player, collapsed on the field during a scrimmage at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. According to a Rutgers spokesperson at the time, emergency services responded to a 911 call shortly after 6 p.m. describing a teen player that had collapsed during a youth lacrosse game at their University Park Field. Rutgers Emergency Medical Teams assisted in first aid services for Dowd, who was then rushed to Robert Wood Johnson hospital.
In a letter to the community last year, his family wrote, "Jack had a medical condition known as arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD). It is a congenital condition and often the cause of sudden death in young people, specifically young athletes. There was no way for us to know that Jack suffered from this and it was not something we would have ever tested for in his yearly checkups. It was also something that could have happened at any time and was not directly related to how hard he competed in his chosen sport of lacrosse, which gave us some comfort, as we struggled with the thoughts of what we could have done to prevent what happened. There was nothing we could have done, and as hard as it is to accept, we need to try to appreciate the 16-plus years he blessed us all with."
Dash 4 Dowd was an event that was borne out of love and respect for this young man who left the physical earth too soon. A young man who fostered deep friendships with his peers and excelled in his passions both in academics and sports, specifically Lacrosse. The tremendous support for the family was palpable. Jack's dad, Sean Dowd, is a teacher in the High School, Jack's younger brother Casey a student at Holmdel's middle school. Despite the drizzling rain several hundreds poured onto the Roggy Field track at Holmdel High School, to join Jack's parents and his brother. They came: babies being pushed in strollers, groups of sports teams, families who knew and loved Jack for years, other families who never had a chance to meet Jack but know his story, teachers and coaches, relatives, classmates, strangers and friends...they came. Everyone there together to support Jack created a force, something beyond words, something that reminded many of the powerful force that Jack is and will always be to those who had the opportunity to know and love him. Jack's mom Rosaline Dowd said, "The outpouring of support was nothing short of incredible. We know how this community comes together in times of need, but it is emotionally overwhelming how many people need to be thanked. We are so thankful to all." (A thank you message from Jack's family is published below this article.)
There was a whirlwind of activity; smiles, laughter, tears and hugs, as the Kids Fun Run and 5K came closer to the opening gun.
The event was planned with a simple concept to:
- Honor Jack Dowd bringing the community together, and to
- Raise awareness and funding for ARVD/C research program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD http://www.arvd.com
All proceeds from Dash 4 Dowd will go to fund research for ARVD at Johns Hopkins University. Proceeds from the event's snack stand were donated to Holmdel First Aid Squad, many who were in attendance at the event to show their support for the Dowd family. The parking lot and ingress and egress were managed flawlessly by the Holmdel Police Department who showed up strong to show their support for one of Holmdel's own.
First up was the fun run. Gathered by the starting line, you could see the excited faces of the children. Their race included three laps around Roggy Field. There were some very speedy children racing around the track and a few who took a more leisurely pace. TAPinto streamed the beginning of the fun run race live on Facebook
The National Anthem was sung by Holmdel High School Senior, classmate and friend of Jack's; Jordan Gilbert. You can listen to her sing here:
At exactly 11:11 AM, the preparation for the opening speeches prior to the 5K began. Similar to the way military planes fly over a field during a monumental event, almost timed perfectly out of nowhere a group of 16 large birds flew over the field forming a perfect V flying from one end to the next. To many it seemed as if nature was celebrating and honoring Jack.
The students who helped organize the event showed poise and grace during their opening remarks. Arun Movva spoke first mentioning, "...Jack would have been so happy to see the community unite. After all, he loved bringing people together and making them happy. Jack loved competition, so we thought it would only be fitting to have a race in his remembrance.." Next, Jess D'Agostino thanked everyone for coming and commented, "...please know how very thankful we are to see what started as an idea sent in a text message group chat to now become hundreds of people, donations, and efforts that have been made to raise awareness for ARVD and remember Jack Dowd's life..." After Jess spoke, Alok took the mic commenting, "... This past year has definitely been tough on all of us. Jack's death was sudden and completely unexpected. He was the most bright, hard-working, funny, and competitive student and athlete. As Jack's best friend and next door neighbor, there will be forever something missing as he had such a monumental influence on my life. However, as I stand here today, I know Jack is here with all of us and would be so proud....save your tears I'll keep it upbeat. Jack was an amazing person and a legendary friend, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to share his memory with all of you..."
Jack's Godfather and Cousin Chris Dowd spoke, capturing the pain of loss and the inexplicable journey without one of their own. He thanked everyone involved. He also discussed the past year of sharing stories of Jack and what the devastating loss of Jack meant to the family. He recounted meaningful events over the past year and Jack's "huge network of friends".
"When I look out here today I see the support of Jack and I know that he was loved and is still loved and that personally for me makes my grief a tad more manageable." He had a message for Jack's family. "Your dignity and grace in dealing with everything - from Jack's Celebration of Life - to the letter you wrote this community - to all of the doctors visits and appointments - to the scholarships awarded in Jack's name - to this race today and successfully returning to your careers...has been nothing short of incredible to watch, incredible. Not something that anybody would wish on any parent but simply, you have been, incredible." He had a message for Sean Dowd - "You are a hero but not all heroes wear capes. Some heroes are in front of the classroom wearing crocs."
"To Jack, wherever you are in the universe, you will always be right here (touching his heart)." said Chris Dowd.
The event's guest speaker, Senior Associate Director of the Heart and Vascular Institute of Johns Hopkins University, Adrienne Rose addressed the crowd. She reviewed the work that the University is engaged in and shared information. "While I am grateful and proud to be here to represent Johns Hopkins Medicine, I wish that we were here under different circumstances. I extend my deepest condolences to family and friends of Jack Dowd and hope that there is at least some small consolation in knowing that by honoring his life today you are raising awareness about a devastating disease that receives very little attention and helping to improve the lives of the patients and the families that are affected." Rose said. "ARVD is a leading cause of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes as this community know far too well."
She also provided a website for the public in regard to the previously undetected condition Jack had. The website can be viewed HERE.
What followed was a speech from Jack's dad, Sean Dowd. There was not a sound in the crowd of hundreds as Jack's dad expressed his appreciation for everyone present. He recounted many moments shared with his son and their unbreakable bond that transcends our place on this earth. Perfectly capturing the importance of embracing life, Dowd shared a message of "Hope" and exhorted the audience to get busy living life everyday. It was a moving and teaching moment with words that will stay in the minds and memory of those present as a gift from Jack and his dad. At one point Dowd referenced lines from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, "... hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies." Dowd continues, "Though Jack has left this earth he lives through us through hope. He was a good thing and he will never really leave us." Dowd references another line from the movie, providing a powerful message, "...get busy living or get busy dying." Dowd continues, "...so let's all agree to get busy living and stay busy, very busy, every moment of every day for Jack and all of the other good people who have left us and who we keep alive with our collective hope...."
Watch Jacks's dad speak here:
The transition from the speeches and National Anthem and then to the 5K race began, slowly, then with vigor. Following the announcers call, they got ready to race. See video below:
And with the pop of the gun - they were off:
The race itself was made up of many different interest levels. All ages were on the run. Many young groups were running together or just walking together and talking, smiling and enjoying each others company. Friendly water stations dotted the track and they were all kept safe by the Holmdel Police Department who controlled traffic in the area as well as Holmdel First Aid who were on hand. One fun group of young children made a special effort to give all the runners a high five as they rounded the turn by the front of Roggy Field. A true community event, gathered together to Dash 4 Dowd and keep alive the memory of a wonderful young man who shared his world with Holmdel, showed us his gift of a kind heart, warm words of friendship to all and a keen competitive spirit. On Saturday, September 8th 2018, Holmdel came together to Dash 4 Jack Dowd - and Jack Bailey Clarence Dowd dashed along with every single one of them.
A HEARTFELT THANK YOU FROM THE FAMILY OF JACK DOWD:
We would like to thank the Holmdel First Aid Squad, who helped us with collecting the donations and handling financials. The Holmdel Police Department, and specifically Officer Jon Martin who acted as the liaison, stepped in to make recommendations on traffic flow and crowd control. The Holmdel Board of Education, Dr. Robert McGarry, and Principal William Loughran gave the initial approval to help make the event happen on school property. High School Principal Brian Schillaci offered all his assistance after joining the high school in August. Athletic Director Shane Fallon provided advice and resources that made the planning and execution go smoothly.
Special thanks to the high school custodial staff (Gayle and Mike) and especially the Building and Grounds crew (Matt, Wayne, and Charlie) who fulfilled every request and helped put me at ease as the day unfolded. Even more special thanks to the Holmdel Lacrosse team parents who did so much behind the scenes, and behind the registration table, to make it a pleasant experience for all participants (thank you Jeannie Tempone from being our sergeant at arms).
Super special thanks to Mr. Maurice Bell of Viper Timing (and family) for actually making this race a race. His professionalism and assistance from beginning to end made us all look like stars.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Jessica, Alok, and Arun, who made this dream come true, and to all their friends and classmates who pitched in. Jack is so proud of all of you. Thank you to the wonderful sponsors who supported Dash 4 Dowd.
Every family member, friend, neighbor, volunteer, and stranger that attended worked, planned, or organized helped us to renew our faith in humanity and the "hope" that I emphasized in my introduction to the crowd. We will be spending quite some time thanking and hugging everyone who made the day possible, and who made it a success. Our "hope" is that we can in some way repay the favor to each and every one of you as the days and years go by. That will keep Jack alive for all of us, forever.