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Amherst man to row from Miami to New York City to help fund John P. Musante Health Center

Testing his limits on endurance and solitude, Jim Brassord of Amherst will set out to row 1,400 miles from Miami to New York City to raise money for the John P. Musante Health Center opening in downtown Amherst in November.

The health center will be an affiliate of the Hilltown Community Health Center in Western Massachusetts, with the mission to provide primary care to those who are underserved in the community.

“I’ve always tended to enjoy endurance athletics, and I competed in Ironman triathlons in my 40s,” said Brassord, who is the chief of campus operations at Amherst College. “So I’ve always been one who has wanted to challenge myself physically. What really brought it together is the intersection that I have created between this row and community benefit.”

Brassord plans to begin his journey at the start of May, around the same time the health center will break ground. He aims to complete the trip in 50 days, in order fulfill his two-month sabbatical from work.

Eliza Lake, the executive director of the Hilltown Community Health Center, offered her support for Brassord and said the Amherst community was behind him.

“People are very happy and very grateful,” Lake said. “I think people are sort of blown away that somebody would want to do this.”

Musante, the former town manager, was a friend of Brassord before his sudden death in September 2015. According to Brassord, Musante championed the idea of creating a health center to help local citizens in need.

“The mission of the health center really inspired me,” Brassord said. “It was something I thought of as a crying need for our community. That, as well as the connection I have with John Musante, made me think; and this was kind of an epiphany moment about, ‘wow I could take on this epic endurance challenge, benefit the community and honor John Musante.’”

The total budget for the construction of the John P. Musante health center is set around $2.4 million. The federal government has also contributed a $1 million grant.

When he first came up with the idea, Brassord set a goal of raising $100,000 for the center. Thus far he has raised $70,000.

“It’s just extraordinary, it’s inspiring, it’s incredibly generous,” Lake said. “It has obviously raised a tremendous amount of money already and he’s done incredibly well in a short period of time in raising the money. So we’ve been really impressed and just really, really grateful.”

Brassord said his typical day over the course of his expedition will include six to 10 hours of rowing. He plans to eat food that is calorically dense, including power bars, gels packets, Snickers bars and peanut butter. Some nights Brassord will go ashore to refill his provisions and camp out, but for the most part he expects he will sleep in the boat.

“There’s tremendous excitement to start this adventure because there is so much that is unknown, in the sense of, ‘will I be able to physically meet the demands of doing almost two marathons per day for 50 straight days?’” Brassord said. “It’s going to test me to my limits. There’s no question about it.”

According to Lake, the Hilltown Community Health Center is getting close to meeting its budget goals. “We have less than $100,000 left to raise,” she said.

Brassord said he will drive down with his daughter, Hannah, to the Intercoastal Waterway in Miami to set off for the journey. His interest in rowing was sparked from watching her row crew at Connecticut College for four years.

As excited as he said he was for the trip, Brassord also said that he feels a little nervous.   “Is everything going to work as planned?” he said. “You just don’t know, there’s so many variables here, but just hoping that I’ve anticipated all of them.”

The health center will be located on the lower floor of the Bangs Community Center in Amherst Center.

“I just think it’s extraordinary and I wish him all the luck in the world,” Lake said. “We are just really excited, we hope to go down and meet him in New York when he arrives, and it’s just a real testament to his commitment to the goal of the health center and to John Musante, and really is just a wonderful, wonderful gesture.”

Stefan Geller can be reached at stefangeller@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @StefanGeller.

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