Brian Carroll and Jimmy Regan were your standard Long Island student-athletes. They attended one of the East Coast’s finest high schools for boys, Chaminade in Mineola, N.Y., where they excelled academically and athletically. Both young men played together on the school’s lacrosse teams, where they became good friends. They attended rival colleges (Regan chose Duke, while Carroll opted for Maryland), and played lacrosse against each other for four years.
Then, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, their paths divided. Carroll entered the professional world, but Regan, deeply affected by his hometown’s loss of 17 residents in the attacks and the proximity of his father’s workplace to Ground Zero, turned down several job offers from Wall Street as well as a spot at Southern Methodist University’s law school to join the Army.
He went on to be selected by the Army Rangers, an elite Special Operations unit tasked with carrying out some of the War on Terror’s most intense capture-or-kill missions. He led a “fire team” of five or six men. According to his father, also James, Regan was always the first one in and the last one out of combat, perpetually putting his life on the line for his men.
“He walked the walk, no matter what he was doing.” – James Regan Sr., on his son, deceased Army Ranger James Regan Jr.
Then, on Feb. 9, 2007, Sgt. James Regan Jr. was killed by a roadside bomb in northern Iraq, about halfway through his second tour of duty. His death sent shockwaves throughout the communities he belonged to, from Chaminade to Duke to his hometown of Manhasset. Carroll, learning the fate of his former teammate, was gutted.
Six years later, Carroll, now a Hoboken resident, recently completed the Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon, a race that requires participants to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, all without a break. The feat is impressive, no matter the motivation, but even more impressive is that in the process, Carroll raised over $5,000 for the Lead the Way Fund, a non-profit charity organization founded by Regan’s parents following his death that looks out for the families of overseas Army Rangers, as well as the families of injured or deceased Rangers.
Running with a purpose
“If I’m going to take on a challenge like this, I want to do it for something good, not just my competitive and athletic want,” said Carroll a week before running the race, which was held last weekend. “It’s always been a bucket list item, but it's such an undertaking. I’ve told a number of family members, if I wasn’t doing it for the charity, I would have considered waving the white flag.”
Carroll first got into triathlons four years ago, after seeing a friend complete one in New York City for a cancer charity. He began running marathons, and then triathlons, pushing himself a little harder each time. After raising around $3,500 for a different charity a few years ago, Carroll decided he was up for an Ironman, and wanted to find a good enough reason to compete in one.
Naturally, he thought of his old friend.
“I’d be lying if I said the personal connection wasn’t the main reason I decided to run this and work with this charity,” Carroll said. “If Jimmy were here, he’d be doing these types of things.”
Still, even for a lifelong athlete like Carroll, an Ironman is no easy undertaking. He trained with the Hoboken Triathlon Club (who sent twenty members to Lake Placid) and alone, often riding from Hoboken far beyond the border with New York state to train for the biking section of the race. To train for the swimming, he trudged to the Stevens Institute of Technology pool every morning this winter.
“It’s a seven to eight month commitment. You just need to be willing to get up early, go to sleep later, and give up all your weekends,” he said. “There’s nothing more miserable than walking to the Stevens pool in the middle of a February snowstorm first thing in the morning.”
A charity worth helping
The Lead the Way Fund, one of the only charities that strives to specifically help Army Rangers and their families, seeks to fill the gap between what the government will provide and what families can do for themselves. For example, Regan Sr. said, the government will pay medical bills while a wounded Ranger is in acute care, but once he goes home the funds will stop flowing. Still, the Ranger might not be able to sleep normally or move around much, so the organization will purchase a hospital bed for the Ranger’s home.
In Utah recently, a deceased Ranger’s family’s air conditioning system broke in the middle of a heat wave. Lead the Way paid for a new system to be installed. Often, after a surgery or emergency procedure on a Ranger in a military hospital, the government will fly his spouse and children out to see him, but not his parents, cousins or closest friends. Lead the Way steps in to help in those situations, as well.
“The government does everything it can, but there’s a pretty black and white line as to what they can and cannot do,” Regan said. “We don’t have that problem. We try to fill the gap.”
The government has recognized Lead the Way’s efforts as well as its growth since 2007, when it was started, and recently named it a Combined Federal Charity, meaning that it is included in a list of charities to which federal employees can donate out of their paychecks. Regan called the recognition “a major step.”
Of Carroll, Regan Sr. had nothing but praise.
“Brian is a humble young man, that race is much harder than I’m sure he’s letting on,” he said. “He and Jimmy were really solid friends. It means a lot to the Regan family that he is doing what he’s doing.”
As for Carroll, he completed the race last weekend, crossing the finish line as his fiancée, Crystal, and his parents looked on. He said prior to the race that he wouldn’t be crossing the finish line alone. His race number was a combination of his and Regan’s high school lacrosse jersey numbers, and Regan’s initials were embroidered into his race wear.
“I’ve got the support, but when you do a race like this, the communities always rally around the people doing the event,” he said. “I’m more comforted knowing that my buddy Jimmy is going to be helping me cross the finish line. I feel like I have an extra guy pulling for me.”
To learn more about the Lead the Way Fund, visit the organization’s website at leadthewayfund.org or its Facebook page.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org