As Armed Forces Day 2013 approached, Emme, my wife, and I were heading to Jacksonville, NC to visit our friend, and Gold Star Wife, Veronica. Having often celebrated Armed Forces Day hanging out with friends, cooking out, going to the beach, or just relaxing; this year’s celebration would take on an entirely different turn. Rather than relaxing, this year’s celebration was the culmination of several month of fundraising on behalf of Hope For The Warriors®; a fundraiser that would have me running the Run For The Warriors® Half Marathon in an elevation training mask and weighted vest.
If you find yourself asking why, you would not be alone; that was a common theme during the fundraiser and training leading up to the Run For The Warriors® event. Simply put, I was wearing the vest in hopes that bearing a heavy load would inspire donors to donate funds to allow warriors and their families to bear a lighter load. I added weight proportional to the donations that were received. The mask has a symbolic meaning as it restricted my oxygen intake making it difficult to breathe. This is similar to the Gold Star family members who struggle daily to take a breath without feeling the pain of their fallen Hero.
As we were driving to Jacksonville I found myself abnormally nervous. I’ve already run a marathon in 29 states in my quest to run a marathon in each state in honor of fallen friends and heroes. A half marathon certainly shouldn’t make me overly nervous. As we arrived in Jacksonville it dawned on me that I was nervous because not only was I running the race on Saturday but I was also one of the guest speakers at the Hope For The Warriors® Pre-Race Dinner. Arriving at the dinner I was quickly welcomed into the Hope For The Warriors® family. There were several speakers during the dinner and I was humbled to be among them; sure enough, as soon as I finished my speech and returned to my seat the nervous were gone. That is until we made it to our hotel and I started packing the gear for the morning’s run.
Friday night I thought about both the daunting task ahead of me the next day. I awoke early Saturday morning, grabbed the gear and Emme and I headed to the high school for the race. Upon arrival we searched for Veronica, and another friend Rocio, who had agreed to run the race with me to keep me company and ensure I was safe. Quickly enough, the gun sounded to start and we were off.
We started off at a steady pace, even passing a few people during the first couple of miles. But I quickly realized that the mask and vest were going to be more difficult than I’d anticipated in the heat and humidity of the morning and I slowed the pace. As we arrived at the aid stations the volunteers were incredibly pleasant, supportive and cheerful; truly a welcome reprieve from the lonely asphalt that lie ahead. At one of the aid stations a volunteer, not realizing what I was wearing, asked; “Do you need all that to run?” I got a good laugh out of that later when I actually had the energy to laugh.
As we continued to plod along, and the course grew emptier, I was truly grateful that Veronica and Rocio decided to hang back with me despite my slowing them down. Finally, after a couple of hours the high school came back into view and we knew the end was in sight. About half a mile from the finish we were met by Robin Kelleher, President/CEO/Cofounder at Hope For The Warriors®, who joined us for the final stretch. As we entered the stadium and approached the finish line, a group of volunteers started cheering and fell in behind us; encouraging us across the finish line. It was truly an emotional experience crossing the line as it closed the first chapter in my fundraising efforts; I certainly hope I represented the donors well during the run.
It was truly an honor to be a member of Team Hope For The Warriors® and spend Armed Forces day running a half-marathon wearing a 39-pound weighted vest and elevation training mask in support of Hope For The Warriors ®.
Find a Run For The Warriors® near you!