Lilly Cusick, 9, assists Travis Mills operate his prosthetic arm while he spoke to her classmates Wednesday at St. Michael School in Augusta. The Catholic school accepted a challenge from the Mills Foundation to raise enough money to fund two weeks of retreats for veterans and their families at the Travis Mills Center in Rome. Students, staff and family members competed in walks, obstacle courses and made donations toward the $16,000 cost.  Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Two parents at St. Michael School were determined to keep its walk-a-thon tradition alive.

In a normal year, students would have a traditional walk-a-thon, where students of all grades at St. Michael would walk up to eight miles, accepting pledges from family members for encouragement.

But the coronavirus pandemic ensured this would not be a normal year. So parents Jamie Schorr and Jennifer Sparda got creative — they figured out they could still have the walk-a-thon, if they split students into cohorts to involve everyone from kindergarten through eighth grade.

And instead of having the whole event at school, it was split into two parts. The first started about a month ago in students’ homes, while the second — the sixth annual St. Michael School Walk-a-Thon — took place outdoors at the school Wednesday. It was originally scheduled for May 5, but was postponed due to rain.

“We had the kick-off on April 5 and we have the students doing activities at home,” Sparda said. “There is a theme per day and a suggested time for each grade level.”

Each St. Michael student received a worksheet with a variety of activities to complete; once each was completed, they were marked off.

Pledges received by students benefit St. Michael School, as well as the Travis Mills Foundation. The nonprofit, formed by veteran Travis Mills and his wife, Kelsey, in 2013, assists post-Sept. 11 veterans who have been injured during active duty or service. Mills is one of five quadruple amputees to survive injuries during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The money raised will be split between the school and foundation. The goal was to raise enough money to pay for a family to spend two weeks at the foundation’s retreat in Belgrade Lakes, where they can participate in adaptive activities and meet other veteran families.

Sparda and Schorr made a video to educate St. Michael students about the foundation, and cards were made for active duty men and women serving overseas.

Mills was on hand for Wednesday’s event, which included walking and running laps, and an obstacle course.

“We wanted to have fun,” Sparda said. “We didn’t want to give up the day because everyone has worked hard and looks forward to the day to be active and do something healthy.”

The aim of the activities done in advance of Wednesday was to encourage students to try new things, not use their current organized sports to fulfill time requirements for the fundraiser. Sparda and Schorr said they have heard from parents about new activities in which their children have taken part, and said their own got into the spirit as well.

Sparda said her children, ages 4 and 10, have enjoyed going on hikes. Schorr’s children, 7 and 4, have enjoyed “trampoline time” and walks around the neighborhood.

“My kids get home, they have a snack and say, ‘It’s time to do our ‘squares’!” Schorr said. “During this time, parents have struggled to get their kids away from the TV so it’s a good way for them to get together and have family time together, too.”

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