CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Across the country, NCAA Division III institutions participated in NCAA Division III Week beginning on Monday, April 7. The event celebrated the impact of athletics and of student-athletes on the campus and surrounding community. MIT freshman Harris Stolzenberg, a starting attacker on the men's lacrosse team, embodies the community service element of this initiative.
"It doesn't matter who you are or how old you are, if you want to try to make a difference, you can." This is what Harris has learned in his pursuit of raising $1 million to support those wounded in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Inspired by his younger brother, Michael, a quadrilateral amputee, he established Mikey's Run and will be racing in the upcoming Boston Marathon.
A native of Weston, Florida, Harris learned about the attacks after coming home from his high school lacrosse practice. As events unfolded throughout the week, Michael suggested doing a fundraiser for the new amputees "to do something nice because I know what they're going through." At the age of eight, Michael contracted a bacterial infection that left him in a coma and eventually caused oxygen deprivation to all four limbs.
At the time, Harris considered holding a bake sale at school but Michael came up with the idea of launching a website. Harris, who had been admitted to MIT a month earlier, posted on the MIT Class of 2017 Facebook page looking for a website designer. Corey Walsh replied, thus creating the web presence for Mikey's Run. Fellow classmate Karan Kashyap also joined in, serving an instrumental role during the early stages of the initiative as he led national outreach and content management.
In order to legally raise money, Harris teamed up with the Scott Rigsby Foundation that established a fund for the Boston victims. Rigsby, who lost both of his legs in a car accident more than 20 years ago, is the first double-amputee to compete in the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, was an entrant in the 2013 Boston Marathon and is a qualifier for the 2014 event. Due to similarities in its missions, the foundation suggested Harris join Team MR8, which benefits the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation. Martin, who was eight at the time of the attacks, was one of the three spectators killed by the bombs.
"This day is not about me. It's about what happened and I'm just gonna go."
Harris believes he would have attempted to raise money for the marathon victims regardless of attending a Boston-area college. He acknowledges the story wouldn't have received the same amount of attention from the media, but he believes people would have still rallied behind it.
When Harris told his family he wanted to run the marathon, they responded, "You're out of your mind. You can't run a mile." Admittedly, he didn't know what he was doing either but everyone has been fully supportive. Harris began training last September, knowing that if he was going to succeed he needed to start early. After reaching 10 miles following two months of preparation, he was hospitalized for two weeks. Initially discouraged by the setback, Harris battled back and is starting to feel confident with his progress. Throughout the process, Michael has provided the typical younger brother contributions of smug but also positive encouragement.
Going into marathon weekend, Harris has the double duty of preparing for a game against conference foe Wheaton two days before the race. Physically, he plans on trying to get as much as rest as possible. Harris is mindful of the media attention Mikey's Run received last spring, acknowledging, "I don't want to take away anything from anyone else. This day is not about me; it's about what happened, and I'm just gonna go. You put the training in and just enjoy the 26.2 miles, as hard as that's going to be. It will be fun. At the end of the day it will be worth it and hopefully we raise a lot of money."
Looking beyond Mikey's Run, the Stolzenberg family established the Pockets and Sockets Lacrosse Tournament in 2011 to raise funds for Michael's rehabilitative trust. Money aside, the most rewarding experience for Harris has been watching Michael share his story with some of the survivors and see their reactions when they attended the Amputee Coalition National Convention last June.
"I go to MIT, but I'm not the biggest engineer."
Like the marathon, Harris is taking his career at MIT one step at time. On the lacrosse field, he leads the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference in scoring and among all freshmen in the conference, Harris leads the way in assists and is second in goals. Also a member of the varsity football team, he joined Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity in the fall. On the academic side, Harris plans on majoring in management with a concentration in finance and is contemplating minoring in mathematics, political science, or economics. Down the road he is considering pursuing a career in business or possibly politics.
Reflecting on the past year, Harris maintains his humble attitude. "We just wanted to make a difference. We were lucky that Mikey's Run received the attention it did to where we raised enough money to make an impact. It doesn't matter who you are or how old you are, if you want to try to make a difference, you can."