Boston Marathoner and Professional Scouter Takes Strides for Sandy Hook Cub Scouts

Zoe Schwalje and Jonathan Pleva, who won charity bids to run in the Boston Marathon, receiving their Race4Chase uniforms. Schwalje and Pleva ran in honor of Sandy Hook victim Chase Kowalski and raised money for the Kowalski family’s charity.

When Professional Scouter Jonathan Pleva’s feet met the Boston Marathon finish line, the journey totaled a distance far greater than 26.2 miles. The initially devastating trek began several years ago.

In 2012 Newtown, CT, lost 20 children and 6 adults in a tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two of the victims were Tiger Cubs in local pack 170. Three other boys in the pack lost siblings in the mass shooting. Scouters reeled with grief, searching for ways to help a seemingly hopeless situation.

“When the tragedy first occurred, I didn’t know specifically what to do,” said Jonathan Pleva. At the time of the shooting, Pleva was the interim Scout Executive for the Connecticut Yankee Council, the council that covers the Sandy Hook area.

In the aftermath of the shooting, families of the victims established charities and foundations to ensure their memories lived on and bettered the lives of others in the community. Tiger Scout Chase Kowalski’s legacy lives on in the CMAK Foundation, which channels the spirit of the athletic Scout by promoting heathy initiatives for other kids.

Little did Pleva know, the foundation would also act as the catalyst to jolt him back into the rigors of running marathons.

“I started running again just to get back into shape and to do shorter runs like 5Ks and 10Ks. Then this came along and drastically changed my training regimen,” Pleva explained.

The opportunity that crossed Pleva’s path was a charity bid to run in the Boston Marathon.

Jon Pleva and Rebecca Kowalski, mother of Chase, support team Race4Chase after the Boston Marathon.
Jon Pleva and Rebecca Kowalski, mother of Chase, support team Race4Chase after the Boston Marathon.

Charity bids allow runners who would not typically meet qualifying times for the race to run and raise money for the charity they represent. The CMAK foundation tasked Pleva and his fellow charity bid recipient to raise $5,000 for the race – a feat they both exceeded.

Perhaps equally as challenging for Pleva was mustering up the courage to take on a marathon.

Pleva had cross country and track experience from his younger days. He even ran two marathons in college.

“That was 23 years ago. I thought my marathon days were long gone,” he said. “Then this opportunity to help out the family, help out the foundation, and to run in a marathon I would not ordinarily qualify for and be able to enter all came together at once.”

Moving Forward in Running Shoes

The Boston Marathon, the site of another national tragedy, marked the path for healing and triumph for many of its runners.

“We had a total of seven runners on the Race4Chase team. Two of us who got the charity bids and 5 people who actually qualified and agreed to do fundraising on behalf of the foundation as well,” Pleva said.

The team of seven raised $21,794 for CMAK, but encouragement came from more than donations.

“The team had an 8th runner with us: Chase. Symbolic because 8 was Chase’s favorite number,” Pleva said. “We could feel his presence with us during the run.”

Pleva finished the race and intends to take on a second challenge to honor Sandy Hook victim Dylan Hockley, whose brother is a Scout. Hockley’s family created the foundation Dylan’s Wings of Change to honor his memory and help children on the autism spectrum meet their full potential.

The family is sending nine teams of 12 runners to a 30-hour relay stretching about 198 miles.

But Pleva is up for the challenge. An avid Scouter with a long history in BSA leadership (and two sons in the programs), he has witnessed what going the – sometimes literal – extra mile can do to support fellow Scouters.

“When the tragedy occurred, we set up a relief fund for the families. And within a three-month time period we raised $55,000 and received contributions from 42 states. We’d get letters from den leaders saying, ‘Our den did a carwash and here’s the proceeds,'” Pleva said. “It just reinforced that we are a Scouting family and we come together in these times of need.”

And now Pleva continues to pay his support forward.

He explained, “It’s now with the Boston Marathon and the Cape Cod Relay that I realize I can use my running ability to help raise funds in honor of our fallen angels.”

Amidst the rainy chill, Jon Pleva finished the Boston Marathon in memory of Cub Scout Chase Kowalski.




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This blog is managed and written by staff of the Communications Department of the Boy Scouts of America.