If Not Me, Then Who?

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and people around the country remembered the victims of this tragedy in a variety of ways. For Colin Bellavance ’09, it meant honoring the sacrifice of the 343 FDNY firefighters who perished that day. He also wanted to recognize the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. Bellavance did this by competing in the Spartan Ultra event in Killington, Vt.

Bellavance began his own firefighting career in 2007 with the New London Fire Department, while attending Colby-Sawyer. He remained a volunteer with the department until 2014, at which time he accepted a full-time position with the city of Burlington, Vt. Bellavance also served as an aircraft rescue firefighter for a few years before stepping away from fire service to focus on his family. He said, “Being a firefighter has meant so much to me over the years, and I have no regrets about stepping away. I will always be proud of the time I spent serving my community.”

Bellavance has also served in the United States Air Force with the Vermont Air National Guard since 2012. After spending six years as an enlisted member, he earned his commission in 2018. Bellavance is currently a 1st lieutenant and is the officer-in-charge of the Force Development Office at the 158th Fighter Wing in Burlington, Vt.

Running has always been part of Bellavance’s physical training routine. Battling to regain control of his mental health after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2015, running has helped him stay active and gain a sense of accomplishment. Taking part in his first endurance event was something Bellavance wanted to do to challenge himself physically, mentally and spiritually while continuing to be a service to others.

Bellavance had a grueling practice schedule for the four months leading up to the race. Training usually started around 8 p.m. after a full day of working full time, spending time with family and doing regular household chores. On the weekends, Bellavance would go for a long-distance ruck (a long hike/march wearing a weighted rucksack) to help strengthen his legs and get his body used to working under additional stress. He also included a significant amount of visualization work. While on his practice runs and rucks, he would visualize the mountain and part of the course.

The race proved to be the most physically demanding experience that Bellavance ever experienced. The total elevation gain throughout the course was over 14,400 ft., with some sections at a 50% grade. Out of the 72 possible obstacles, Bellavance only missed two, which he was more than pleased about. He said, “The race was everything I thought it was going to be: grueling, mentally exhausting, punishing at times, exciting and fun.”

Not only did Bellavance successfully complete this grueling race, but he also raised a substantial amount of money for the Travis Manion Foundation. This veteran-based organization supports veterans and families of fallen heroes, and Bellavance felt compelled to help raise money for them. The group is named after Travis Manion, who was killed in Iraq in 2007. In one of Manion’s last letters to his family, he wrote, “If not me, then who?” Bellavance takes this to heart. He said, “We all have it within us to help, in our own way, to do our part. If we all do our small part, we can achieve incredible things together.”

Bellavance says, “September 11 was one of the finest displays of courage and sacrifice I have ever witnessed. I watched on live television (along with the rest of the world) as hundreds of firefighters and first responders ran into harm’s way to help people they had never met before. Twenty years later, I feel the very same way. I did this race to honor the sacrifices of our first responders, military members and their families. From the very beginning, this race was about spreading a message and an ethos that we can apply in our daily lives to make our communities, states, country and world a little better. ‘If not me, then who?’ It has been a remarkably humbling experience to share this message.”