By: Liz Rizzo | Follow me on Twitter @pastagrl88
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual road event and for the millions that have ran its historic course, you’ll hear the many personal reasons that fueled those runners. This year was no different and one story involves one of the cities’ most respected captain of any Boston sport team.
Former Bruins Captain and Future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara ran the prestigious race this year for a couple of special reasons: the Hoyt Foundation and the Thomas E. Smith Foundation. After a chance encounter during an Bruins Alumni game, both organizations combined their efforts to help establish the first-ever Zdeno Chara Paralysis Grant.
The grant is a $14,000 annual gift to help families’ off-set costs for physical therapy, hiring caretakers and renovating homes to become more wheelchair accessible. The amount also represents the 14 seasons that Chara played for the Black and Gold.
“I (met) Tommy at one of those alumni Bruins game and his idea was: ‘Look, we can do something that will be kind of a combination of Tommy Smith and Rick and Dick Hoyt Foundation because it’s the same purpose, same type of thing. So why don’t we just do it together?’ And I thought it was a great idea.”Former Bruins Capatain Zdeno Chara
As reported by local news outlet WCVB, Smith endured multiple injuries that led to him being paralyzed on three separate occasions: twice while playing hockey and once after a horrific car accident. He miraculously recovered all three times and walked the Marathon for the fifth time this year.
Smith mentioned that “watching Z play, just the four words that came to mind were hard work, determination, teamwork and champion. We’ve met some people along the way that embody the characteristics of the way I think Z carries himself and the way he played and gives back to the community…what a great opportunity for us to really make someone’s day and show them that they’re not fighting alone.”
For this year’s Zdeno Chara Paralysis Grant, Canton resident Vaughn Pfeffer would be named recipient. Pfeffer connected with Smith through a mutual friend-Jake Thibeault who suffered an on-ice injury as senior in high school while playing for a youth hockey club during a Labor Day tournament. After a small brain bleed, he was left paralyzed from the waist down after going headfirst into the end boards.
Pfeffer’s story began in 2021 after suffering a spinal cord stroke while working out at a gym which led to him becoming paralyzed. In a tough series of events, his step-mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and his father himself became paralyzed after being rear-ended by a bus as he was on his way to to pick her from treatment.
Upon hearing Pfeffer’s story, Smith presented him with the Zdeno Chara Grant along with a special surprise: a visit from the big man himself. As the former Bruins Captain walked into Pfeffer’s home, he exclaimed “What is Zdeno Chara doing in my house? That’s crazy!”
Chara himself was more than happy to present Pfeffer with a ceremonial check: “I think that’s the best part of the whole thing. Finally getting to present it to someone, that’s the cherry on top of the cake.”
Pfeffer will receive a total of $25,000 from both the Thomas E. Smith Foundation and the Zdeno Chara Grant.