Lousiana firefighter Ryan Mast had never met Cheektowaga native Timmy Richardson, but that changed this weekend.
Richardson, a 16-year-old firefighter from the Hy-View fire department in Cheektowaga, is currently battling leukemia. In March, Richardson requested shirts from different fire companies across the country so he could wear a new shirt from a new company every day while undergoing treatment. The Facebook post almost immediately went viral and hundreds of shirts were sent to John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, where Timmy was staying.
Like many other firefighters, Mast saw the Facebook post, and wanted to get involved. But sending a shirt wasn't enough for the Louisiana native.
"I noticed on Facebook he was looking for fire tee-shirts from around the country, if not world, to wear while he was in treatment." Mast said. "Well I wasn't going to buy him one [a shirt], so I bought a plane ticket instead."
On Friday, Mast landed in Buffalo with a plan. He was going to run the Buffalo Marathon, wearing all of his firefighter gear, in honor of Richardson.
Nearly 10-years-ago, Mast founded "Flags to the Finish," an organization dedicated to raising awareness and money for different charities and first-responders nationwide. When Mast saw Richardson's story online, he knew helping and honoring Timmy was something he had to do.
"You sign up to support each other no matter what and you know, you take a leave from work to do it and it's worth every minute of it," Mast added. "The entire day of travel here, layovers, you know, dealing with whatever it is, you do it, and when you cross that finish line and you see that you made a difference in his life, that makes it all worthwhile and hopefully he can pass that on to somebody else later when it's his turn."
Joining Mast on his trip to Buffalo is Mary Mayo, a former sheriff's deputy who was paralyzed in an accident while on duty 10-years-ago. Mayo lost the use of her legs when a tree fell on her patrol car, killing her fiance and leaving her bedridden for years.
Mast and Mayo met earlier this year and became friends. Mast hired Mayo to work for his company, and now also helps with "Flags to the Finish". On Sunday, Mayo joined Mast on his 26.2-mile journey, riding in a hot-pink chariot that Mast pushed during the marathon. For the pair, this is their second race together, but their first marathon as a team. In March, Mast and Mayo finished the Crescent City Classic 10K in their hometown of New Orleans.
"Ryan will do anything for somebody in need," Mayo said. "He's a good man."
Mast hopes that "Flags to the Finish" will continue to grow so he, Mary, and the rest of his team can help more people like the Richardson family.
"Now it's national," Mast said. "I just want to keep this going."
If you’re interested in helping support Timmy’s battle with cancer — his family is holding a fundraiser on Sunday, June 3rd from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. at Southline Fire Hall in Cheektowaga. For information on tickets, call Chief Bryan Chapman at 716-548-2851.