Monday, November 21, 2011

What does Running have to do with Veterans Anyway?

I love to run.  It is a sport that is individual and personal and yet, when I cross paths with another runner during my morning trek, I feel an instant connection.  I have attended parties, feeling lost because I knew no one, until I found another person wearing a race T-shirt.  Introduce me to another runner, and we will have an instant conversation.  No matter the speed they run or the distance.

It should surprise no one that for the past two years for Veterans Day, I ran a race that honors our nation’s veterans.  The Rockledge Rumble in Grapevine, TX, has been going strong for 16 years.  Participants choose from a 15K, 30K and 50K.  The trail is hilly, filled with rocks and roots, and branches have been known to hit you in the face.

Before the race, there is a ceremony where every single combat veteran from every single conflict is called forward to be honored.  The pledge is recited and the Star Spangle Banner sung.  For me, it is a joy to be in the midst of a group that loves this country and doesn’t take our privileged life for granted. 

The race itself is personal and I don’t know how other runners relate their run to our veterans.  For me, I compare my aches and pains, my doubts and my strength, to our young service members.  If I stumble, I know someone in battle has stumbled.  On hot days, I know that the men and women in Iraq have withstood even hotter days.  On cold days, I think of our Korean veterans and the bitter temperatures they endured.

The best (and worst) part of this race is the end.  In the last half mile, the racer leaves the shelter of the woods and the well-marked trails.  Now out in the open, the fierce winds hit as you navigate along the rocky, uneven and course beach of the lake.  Legs carry you towards a finish line that you cannot see.  At the very end is the steep, daunting staircase that everyone has warned you about.  The announcer uses binoculars to find your race number and as you reach that staircase, he is already calling you up by name.  My pride will not allow me to take the steps slowly and I use the last of my energy to storm up the stairs…and swear at the announcer.  I hate and love the end of this race.
The bottom of the stairs--Rockledge Rumble 2010

It should be shared that the race director lines that staircase with American Flags.  There are 20 steep and deep steps.  In past years, he has placed signs on each step—last year, he listed each war and conflict and the number of American killed in action.  Two years ago, the victims of the Fort Hood shooting were listed on each step.  This year, the stairs are left naked, but the flags flap in the wind and at the top of the stairs, the finish line is marked with a flag from each branch of service.  From start to finish, the race honors our veterans.  Thank you to Tom and the organizers of this great event.
Almost done!

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