Written by US Mountain Running Team staff member and trail race director Paul Kirsch. Photos: Freddi Lynne Triback.
Two New England mountain/trail runners start a hat fundraiser to raise money for the children of Ukraine.
When you meet Freddi Triback and Brian Walfield at mountain and trail races across New England, they seem to know everyone. It makes sense for a couple who have raced up to 50 weekends a year, pre-pandemic. When they aren’t racing on the trails, you can find them competing and volunteering at the races in Lynn Woods, Massachusetts every Wednesday night. Lynn Woods is a favorite locale because that’s where they met. They love to compete, volunteer and cheer on others. Recently they have found a way to share that kindness across the miles by knitting hats to raise money for the children of Ukraine.
When Freddi and Brian are racing, they usually have a friendly challenge going, to see who does better at each race. Often you will see Freddi post on social media about who won the day’s battle on the trail. Then, after they finish races, you see the true kindness and positivity of both of them. There they both are, standing just before the finish or halfway up a steep climb, cheering and willing every competitor to the finish line.
When Freddi isn’t running or cheering on runners, she works as a teacher at the Landmark School in Manchester By The Sea, MA, a private school for kids with dyslexia. She teaches reading, writing, and 6th grade social studies. She has been a teacher for 26 years. Brian works in Boston as a Facilities Engineer and licensed electrician at Perkin Elmer. He’s been there for 21 years.
Like many people, Freddi and Brian have been heartbroken to see the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. They found a way to share the same inner kindness they show at races to meaningfully help with the relief efforts, with their Ukraine hat knitting project. We caught up with Freddi after the Merrimack River Trail Race on April 9th to learn more about the project and their motivations.
Tell me what first gave you the idea to start the fundraiser.
The war started in Ukraine on Feb. 24th. The following weekend, Brian said, “We should do something to help.”
How did you come up with the idea of knitting hats as part of the fundraiser?
Brian knows that my biggest stress relievers are knitting and running. He came up with the idea to knit hats that look like the flag of Ukraine in exchange for people to donate to charity. We found United Help Ukraine, a grassroots organization out of Washington DC on Facebook and raised $385 in that first weekend. When donations kept coming in, we switched over to Save the Children Ukraine which is a pretty well known organization whose mission is right in line with mine, especially being a teacher.
Besides you and Brian, how many other friends are helping you knit hats?
About a week into our Ukraine Project, our friend Angel Green jumped on board to help. One of my co-workers has knitted a few hats and the wife of one of our trail running friends has crocheted some beautiful hats too. Brian and I have made over 100 hats so far.
Approximately how much have you raised?
As of today (April 10th), we’ve raised $5270.00. There hasn’t been a single day that someone has not ordered a hat. It’s all through Facebook and word of mouth. Some people have even ordered more hats after they’ve received theirs.
How many hats have you given away?
We’ve given away over 140 knitted items, mostly hats, some headbands.
Have your students been inspired by what you are doing? Have they come up with any of their own fundraising ideas for Ukraine?
One of my 6th graders had a hot chocolate stand on a Sunday and raised $600. Google doubled it to $1200 and he donated all of the money to Save the Children. According to his mom, he was “inspired by his social studies teacher and her efforts at fundraising.” Some of my students have even knitted hats for themselves, other students, and family members.
Do you have any Ukrainian friends? If so, what has their reaction been to the fundraiser?
We actually don’t know anyone personally from Ukraine.
How long will you keep up the fundraiser?
As long as the war goes on, and people still want hats to show support, we’ll keep making them.
If people want to donate to the charity, what is the name of it?
Save the Children Ukraine. People can donate right to the site (let us know how much so we can keep track) or venmo me and I’ll forward it to the site.
What’s the farthest away you have shipped a hat?
We’ve shipped to Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Texas, Washington DC, and Portland, Oregon.
What has been the reaction of your trail running friends to the whole fundraising idea?
Everyone loves the idea and we’ve had tons of donations, even from those who prefer not to receive a hat. Some have donated and instead of receiving a hat, have offered to give a hat to someone else. Some people have even donated extra for yarn and shipping.