With the school year effectively cut short and the remainder of their running season canceled, athletes from the Wellesley High School track and cross-country teams could have stayed at home this spring and on the sidelines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, 18-year-old Jackson O’Toole and his teammates decided to run in a different direction—with a fundraiser to support frontline health care workers.

“We were in a pit of boredom,” laughs Jackson. So, in late March, Jackson says he and his teammates “met up”, via FaceTime, to discuss their options. “We knew we wanted to do something for area hospitals,” says Jackson, whose mother Alexa O’Toole, RN, is a longtime staff member in the Newborn Family Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Jackson and his co-captains decided to start a run-a-thon, during which socially-distanced participants could seek donations on a GoFundMe page. Money raised would buy sandwiches for hospital workers, made by a local business, Comella’s Homemade Italian Food.

On April 25, more than 20 runners from Wellesley laced up to participate in the event, setting their own routes around town. “Even though we were running separately, this is something that brought our entire team together,” says Jackson. “The state championship meet had already been cancelled, but we still had a chance to put our training to use with this effort. Even the youngest members of our team were running more than they ever had.”

With a starting goal of $2,000, participants easily cleared their initial fundraising hurdle, bringing in more than $20,000 and delivering nearly 2,000 meals for staff at Mass General, Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Boston Medical Center.

“The hope is that you’ve raised your kids to think beyond themselves,” says Alexa. “And it’s so gratifying to see them doing it.”

Jackson says the run-a-thon supporting hospital workers has already been replicated by at least one other high school team in the area, proving the idea can continue to go a long way to helping others.