Hockey Humanitarian Award finalist spotlight: UMass Boston players’ Men In Blades initiative keeps charities rolling in donations

By Tim Costello

What started out as a brainstorming conversation between two UMass Boston hockey players became a goal and a purpose for supporting the American Cancer Society during the pandemic.

Not to be confused with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ “Men in Black,” Men In Blades (MIB) was born when teammates Jake Adkins and Andrew Walker wanted to come up with a meaningful way to help support cancer patients, many of whom were struggling to get care during the COVID pandemic.

MIB intended to help support those in need by raising donations through a 900-mile rollerblading adventure from Boston to Andrew’s hometown in Mason, Mich.

“As freshmen, we learned a lot from watching Dakota [Keene] and his charitable endeavors and talked with him about how to organize our plan,” said Walker. “It all started with discussions in our rooms and quickly became an obsession and focus about how we could do this. We are both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) guys, so we figured the best plan was to roller blade from Massachusetts to Michigan. We didn’t quite figure out the endurance and topography around skating the 900 miles or what turned out to be 100 miles per day for nine days.”

The cause was the easy part of the equation as both Adkins and Walker had seen first-hand the impacts of battling cancer with dear family members and friends including Adkins’ mother, who has survived two battles with cancer.

There was the underlying concern and focus about raising funds to support ACS, especially during the pandemic to keep needed services and treatments available for patients battling cancer. Their battle on the road was going to prove to be much more than either of them had considered when masterminding the plan.

“It was just four of us with a camper,” said Adkins. “We didn’t consider the elevation changes on the roads which was a bit of a miscalculation because our rollerblades have no brakes. There were a lot of uphills and downhills in the first week. The uphills weren’t so bad, but the downhills were challenging in trying to avoid falls or running into things. We quickly adapted to put our vehicle in front of us on the hilly sections so that we could use it to slow down on some of the descents.

“I think we both lost 15-20 pounds with the intensity of the skating every day and couldn’t eat enough calories for what we were burning with the 100 miles per day. We would eat about six or seven times – full meals during each day, and we still lost weight.”

MIB began their daily ultra-marathon very early each morning trying to beat the heat of the summer days. Physio tape became a growing part of their daily wardrobe. There were times it was so hot on the road that the tar seemed to melt around their wheels and on at least one occasion, they were the traffic jam on local access roads. Their cause garnered more and more awareness as they traveled west, and that knowledge helped them with some needed police escorts at times to keep the MIB convoy moving.

Among the well-oiled MIB team, there was a much-needed physical therapist to keep the boys on their blades as well as their trusted social media guru and USA Hockey intern, Sidney Binger. Sidney kept the MIB trek front and center on the many social media channels and garnered the attention of the NHL as well as the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

Their goal of raising several thousand dollars quickly ballooned as different contributors across the hockey world backed their road trip on skates. Ultimately, the boys captured $30,000 in contributions for the American Cancer Society and brought attention to many local charities along their journey across the different states heading into Michigan.

“Sidney and I were best friends growing up,” said Walker. “We were lucky that she had some time away from her intern position with USA Hockey due to the pandemic – she was the social media master. It really was amazing how the hockey world rallied to our cause and helped us greatly exceed our goals. It feels great to help out a lot of people who need the support to continue their battle against cancer.”

MIB has not stopped their fundraising activities just because their rollerblading a third of the way across the country ended over the summer. The MIB franchise is something that Adkins and Walker are committed to maintaining as part of their ongoing balancing of school, hockey and charitable endeavors.

They maintain a website not only for continued contributions but also for planned future fundraising activities that are already in the works. Like the movie franchise, there are plans for MIB2 activities to support charities and groups in need.

“We have a lot of ideas,” said Adkins. “We had planned a 3-on-3 pond hockey tournament for the Frog Pond in the Boston Public Gardens but had to postpone our December timing due to COVID. Right now, we are supporting the AJ Quetta Foundation by selling bracelets and t-shirts to raise money for the local high school hockey player that suffered a serious spinal cord injury this year. We see a lot of opportunities to keep the MIB active and we are proud to be helping.

“The Hockey Humanitarian Award nomination is really amazing, and it is an honor to be recognized – we want to keep this going to contribute as much as we can to the charities where we can help.”

So is there another marathon skate planned for MIB? Not according to Walker, who thinks their next sanctioned event will be with a larger scale of participants and a much shorter route to travel.

“We are planning a 10-mile rollerblading event in the upcoming months,” Walker said. “We would like to reschedule the pond hockey event next winter but will look for a lot of participants to join our 10-mile event. I think we still have several sets of wheels we never needed for the trek last summer so we can put those to good use and enjoy a much shorter route for a good cause.” His partner on wheels couldn’t agree more.

“I am so glad we didn’t pick my hometown to skate to,” joked Adkins. “Centennial, Colorado would have been way too much – a ten-miler sounds pretty good.”