For the last several months, in the midst of a bitter cold Northeast winter, teenager Michael Ferrara, has been running on the side streets of New Jersey.
Ferrara's water bottle continually freezes over, his legs and arms sometimes sting from the cold temperatures, and the fear of hitting black ice sits in the back of his mind as he runs. However, it hasn't stopped him from training for the 50-mile Pistol Creek Ultra-Marathon to raise money for VetREST.
"Breathing in the cold air has caused me to panic, but staying calm and remembering why I am doing this keeps me going," Ferrara told Fox News.
Last year, Ferrara teamed up with the nonprofit after meeting its CEO, Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Vicci, who retired from the military after 34 years.
The nonprofit is focused on mentoring veterans while providing farming opportunities "in safe and supportive environments where they can achieve wellness themselves and produce healthy food for our nation," according to the nonprofit's website.
Their mission resonated with Ferrara who's been helping homeless veterans for over four years through various initiatives. Last year, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2021 to Houses for Warriors, a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps get homeless and at-risk warriors off the streets.
But after running that race, the high schooler – who one day wants to serve in the U.S. military – wanted to do more.
In November 2021, he started his 20-week training program in preparation for the night race that will take place in Alcoa, Tennessee on March 19.
"I really do want to help the veterans of our country," he said. "They have put their blood, sweat and tears into fighting for our freedoms and for them to end up on the streets I think is totally unacceptable."
The race will kick off at 8 p.m. and Ferrara projects it will take him anywhere from eight to 10 hours.
"The plan is to show up, run and keep running until my watch says 50 miles."
The nonprofit is still accepting donations on Eventbright through the day of the race. Buying a ticket is confirmation of a donation, not a ticket for the race itself, Ferrara explained.
VetREST plans to use the funds to "help a veteran or a veteran and their family with either assisting to build a new home in partnership with another charity or we will use the funds to help several veterans who are struggling with the effects of PTSD," Vicci said.
Normally, the organization works with veterans to find out what the root cause of their PTSD in order to "not only give them guidance on what else can be done to help them, but if we can put the money in places that will help them get through their situation, we find that is the best cure," he continued.