Former St. Anselm College football player Jason Case and his girlfriend, Amy Diaz, learned they had been selected for the cast of "The Amazing Race" just after the bombing of the Boston Marathon last April.
Their New England upbringings and the "Boston Strong" response to the marathon attack, they said, were major factors in winning the $1 million prize in this year's season of the long-running CBS reality show.
They also credited their college backgrounds.
Case — a 33-year-old native of Attleboro, Mass., and 2003 graduate of St. Anselm — and Diaz, a 29-year-old former Miss Rhode Island, were the first of 11 tandems to reach Juneau, Alaska, at the end of a 30-day journey that began in Indonesia. The competition ended in July, and "The Amazing Race" season finale aired earlier this month.
Case and Diaz agreed that the two toughest legs of the race were in Norway (125 miles inside the Arctic Circle) and Juneau.
"Landing in those two extreme cold-weather climates wasn't a factor for us. We're from New England," said Case, the owner of Case Snow Management in Attleboro.
Throughout much of the series, which made Case and Diaz audience favorites for their likability and unusually honest approach to such reality-show competitions, Case can be seen wearing a "Boston Strong" T-shirt.
"We wanted to run with the spirit of Boston," Case said "We're glad we did so with the integrity that we learned from our neighbors and friends in the Boston area, and from our families."
"That's what we're all about," added Diaz. "We want to keep it alive. It was a defining characteristic for us."
Case, a 2003 St. Anselm graduate, also credits his St. A education and the values instilled there for the success he and Diaz had in "The Amazing Race." (Diaz has three degrees from Barry University, a Catholic school in Miami.
"I think our being associated with Catholic schools gave us the ethics and morals we used to run the race," Case said.
He cited two incidents when Diaz stopped to help other teammates complete the tasks that allow them to move ahead.
"Doing the right thing didn't slow us down, and it didn't stop us from winning," Case said.
While they did receive some negative feedback from other teams who didn't appreciate their actions, they said viewers have been pleased and that their actions were well received by people watching the show.
Their college experiences, they said, also allowed them to learn how to budget their time and understand how to be proactive.
"'The Amazing Race' is ultimately a mental game, one where being mentally tough and preparing your mind for stressful situations is key," said Case, describing his St. A experience of balancing academics and athletics was a plus. "You can only battle physical toughness with mental toughness."
Case displayed a fair share of toughness in his four seasons on the football field at St. Anselm, In 32 games over four seasons — the first four after the school reinstated football as a varsity sport — he caught 56 passes for 752 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Case also had some experience with winning. During his four seasons, the Hawks went a combined 20-19; in the 11 seasons since, their aggregate record is 18-94.
Values of teamwork
Case credited his partner with having the smarts to be able to book the right airline flights and manage the many languages they encountered in their nine-country, 35,000-mile trek. Diaz speaks Spanish and a little French and Portuguese, which helped since the first two legs took place in Chile.
In addition to winning the million dollars, the couple is also distinguished by matching the all-time record for having the most second-place finishes among any of the teams who have participated in the 23 seasons of "The Amazing Race." They came in second on six legs of the race.
"But we never gave up, and we thought of our New England sports teams along the way, (teams) who have done likewise for many years, ," said Case, who describes himself as a big fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins. "They always keep fighting, so we kept fighting. We knew we could win. Coming in second only encouraged us to get better, just like the Sox and just like the Patriots. 'Boston Strong' speaks volumes for us."
The two said they were proud that they were able to get along with each other and show respect for each another throughout the grueling month.
Said Diaz, "The cameras are on seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It's easy to forget they're there, and you're put under such extreme circumstances that you lose a sense of what's going on and you let the pressure get to you. We learned the best way to approach it was to be encouraging and support each other, not to bicker. That would be a waste of time."
The competition, including some days off, took about eight weeks. After a day's worth of competition, teams were allowed 12 hours for rest, but that time was often taken up with interviews, meals and laundry, so there was little time to sleep.
Case and Diaz said they haven't decided how to spend their prize money, but both have returned to work, he at his company and she as a freelance social-media manager. They plan to travel and have discussed marriage but haven't made an announcement.
"This is a special moment in time for us, and we want to take advantage of living it out," said Case. "And, we don't want to combine a wedding and 'The Amazing Race.' We'd like to experience both occasions separately."