Tough Ruck Sunday
Samantha McChesney, one of four female firefighters in Concord, walked and ran a 26.2 mile course in full turn-out gear and a heavy rucksack in the Tough Ruck Sunday, raising money for a veterans’ charity.
Courtesy photo by Maia Kennedy Photography

First place Concord firefighter ‘rucks’ for others

By Anne O’Connor
April 19, 2023

For the second year in a row, Concord firefighter Samantha McChesney placed first in her category in Tough Ruck 2023 – female first responders. 

The Boston Marathon-associated event has its genesis in tragedy.

Ten years ago, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three lives were lost that Patriots Day in 2013 and so many others changed irrevocably. 

During the hunt for the suspects, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology patrol officer was killed. A year later, a Boston police sergeant wounded during a shootout died, another victim of the manhunt.

First responders were at the finish line that day, helping the injured. Some were members of the Tough Ruck Nation —military, first responders and civilians who rucked the course to raise money to support veterans and their families.

After 2013, with new safety protocols in place, the ruckers, with their heavy backpacks, are no longer allowed on the marathon course. Instead, they partner with the Boston Athletic Association, which runs the marathon, to hold an event starting and ending in Concord.

Now, on the Sunday preceding Marathon Monday, the fundraisers and their supporters gather in Concord to run, walk or both to complete a 26.2 route while carrying weighted backpacks, often in uniform. Each will receive the first of the official Boston Marathon medals.

McChesney joined 900 others of the Tough Ruck Nation on Sunday, April 16. This was her eighth time doing the ruck but two of those years, she pointed out, were virtual, due to COVID.

Clad in full turn-out gear, she started out carrying around 60 pounds of weights and supplies in a ruck, or backpack, festooned with ribbons and pictures. Adding in the roughly 45 pounds of protective gear she wore means she increased the load she hauled by more than half her body weight.

The ribbons honor all 343 firefighters killed after 9/11 and the fallen friends and family of her own and of the people who donated to her ruck. This year she raised $2,000 for the event. 

This year, Tough Ruck Nation has raised $800,000 so far and $2.5 million over the years. All of the fundraising goes to the Military Friends Foundation, the official charity of Touch Ruck Nation.

In total, McChesney estimates she has raised between $15,000 and $20,000 for the Military Friends Foundation. Over the years, she’s raised over $100,000 for other veteran organizations.

Her reasons for completing the demanding event each year are many. 

She is a woman in a physically demanding job usually filled by men. Out of the 45 firefighters in Concord, four are women. “It’s important to me to represent us well,” she said.

For first responders, “Health needs to be a top priority. Mental health and suicide are all too common in fire departments,” she said.

McChesney sees the importance of being in top physical and mental shape. She trains military and first responders across the country through 02X, a company working with the tactical community.

She was drawn to supporting the military from family experiences. Her grandfather was a pilot in the Air Force and she grew up hearing his stories.

This year, 40% of the Touch Ruck Nation are female. Most of the participants, 85%, are military, first responders, and their families.

Rucking over 26 miles was just the first part of McChesney’s day. After the race, she headed over to the firehouse for a night shift.