Hockey Humanitarian Award Finalist Spotlight: UMass Boston’s Adkins, Walker continuing ‘Men In Blades’ initiative with encore fundraiser

By Tim Costello

While blockbuster movies are great for audiences, many times the sequel falls short in comparison.

That is clearly not the case for two UMass Boston hockey players who have found ways to continue to raise money for an organization near and dear to their hearts, the American Cancer Society.

Having been finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award in the 2020-21 season, Jacob Adkins and Andrew Walker have doubled down on their efforts to raise monies to support patients despite the obstacles of the pandemic and remote learning activities that caused a shift from campus life. The sequel truly has moved well past the original for this “Men In Blades” duo.

You may remember our intrepid rollerbladers from a couple of years back when they skated from Boston to Walker’s hometown of Mason, Mich. The nearly 900-mile journey helped them raise an enormous amount of money on behalf of the American Cancer Society and launched the Men In Blades on social media where the hockey community and beyond helped them in the fundraising efforts. That event took a toll on the boys physically and while they knew they wanted to do more, their cross-country blading days were over and new and different approaches were already being planned for their return to school last summer.

“That trip to Michigan was a lot on our bodies,” said Adkins. “It was great that we did it, but we knew we wanted to focus on events where it wasn’t just the two of us doing the skating. We wanted to broaden the reach and possible support for ACS and started thinking about ways to get more people involved with our platform here at school and in the area.”

And so was born the 1st Annual Back-to-School Blade-A-Thon, a 10K event in Boston where anyone could skate with the Men In Blades and raise monies to support the American Cancer Society. Planning was detailed and signups were robust as the excitement about the event last August was peaking just before the start of the school year.

“It was great,” said Walker. “We had everything set to go, including some sponsors and prizes and giveaways for the participants, but then COVID guidelines changed and we had to postpone the actual event. We still raised some money for ACS ($4,000) and we now know how to run this so when we are clear to go next year, we will bring it back with a bigger focus on not just blading but people who want to run and/or walk to make it more inclusive, especially across the Beacons sports community.”

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and the boys were not going to let the circumstances dictate their next philanthropic endeavor.

The UMass Boston cancer fundraising game was a rousing success in 2021-22 (photo: UMass Boston Athletics).

Despite still raising money for the Blade-A-Thon, the Men In Blades put together an event that brings another passion into play – hockey. The Beacons play in the ultra-competitive New England Hockey Conference which is considered amongst the best in the nation for D-III hockey. As players, it seemed like a very logical and practical way to focus attention on their cause and the first Hockey Fights Cancer game was scheduled this season.

“It was a great way to get the word out and have the singular focus on cancer with a platform that many are familiar with in the hockey community,” said Walker. “We also combined a toy drive with the game for pediatric patients being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital which we hoped would have an impact around the holiday season. It turned out great with the response and it is already something we look to repeat next year – bigger and better.”

“There are really three men in the MIB graphic we put together,” added Adkins. “My brother Tyler is a graphic designer, and he is the third member of the group. He designed the pink jerseys we played the HFC game in and really has helped with everything that Andrew and I come up with on the fundraising front. He has been a very important part of the fundraising success we have had to date and will in the future.”

Men In Blades raised over $5,000 in their Hockey Fights Cancer game along with a vast amount of new toys being donated to the hospital. They also repurposed some items donated for the canceled Blade-A-Thon to generate revenues through in-game raffles and are already planning the HFC game for next season.

Full-time students and hockey players, Adkins and Walker have found ways to prioritize their Men In Blades initiatives despite the heavy coursework associated with their post-school pursuits of medical and dental careers.

The Men In Blades were recognized during a recent Boston Bruins game at TD Garden (photo: UMass Boston Athletics).

“Time creation is always a challenge,” said Adkins. “For us, our passion equals prioritization. We focus on school, hockey and our charitable work because it is what we are passionate about. It isn’t always easy to accommodate all of the related stakeholders, so now we are focusing on branching out with our foundation to do more in more places.”

“We would love for there to be other MIB ‘franchises’ out there anywhere in the country to grow the fundraising opportunities,” added Walker. “We are leveraging our close-knit athletic community here on campus and broadening participation in events to other activities for people who prefer to walk or run. We would be thrilled if others want to leverage our platform and we can grow contributions to this and other causes. It would be an organic model for others looking to get into fundraising, but Jake and I could still have a bigger impact beyond the things we continue to do locally in the Boston area and here on campus.”

With over $40,000 raised so far, the Men In Blades have shown that sometimes the sequel is better than the original. They continue to explore new ways to generate donations and explore other avenues for events and participants to contribute now and in the future. The Blade-A-Thon will be back later in 2022, bigger and better than the original planned for last year.

By the way, Adkins’ mother, a cancer survivor, just celebrated her seventh anniversary in remission, something the Men In Blades want to make sure happens for other cancer patients as well.