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Our military has served and sacrificed for more than a decade, in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And I wanted to join Brian Gruender in paying homage to those who gave their lives for our country.
When Brian met me for the first time, he and his dad were standing in the back of the Fox Valley Running Company, a local specialty shoe store that carried the Wigwam brand of socks. My topic was ultra running and why others should not be terrified of the long road ahead.
Fast forward a few years and a message from Brian through Facebook asked me to join him for a portion of his dream run, when it came through my area. Well that piqued my interest and the messages continued to flow.
I learned why he was doing this run called Promises To Keep 135 or just PTK-135. He had failed to finish the two 100-mile races he had attempted on the trails, reaching 82 miles in his longest run to-date.
He was looking for a mentor and I was the one he was reaching out to. I later learned of his presence at my presentation, when he presented me with a written thank you note. Before that, I did not know of the connection we had made at the running store.
After reading the messages I thought he was reaching out for a friend, someone to share the lonely road and lonely night to make his dream come true. I offered to run the entire 135 miles with him and he was ecstatic.
I joined myTEAMTRIUMPH’s Wisconsin Chapter and set up a fundraising page (http://www.crowdrise.com/mttwimmm/fundraiser/myteamtriumphwi) to be an integral part of the effort. I attended an event and pushed “captain” Josh Guernsey, a disabled vet, during a 15-km race near Green Bay, WI. It was a wonderful experience. Those pushing the race chairs are dubbed “angels” while the rider is called captain.
Brian conceived an idea to run from Kenosha to Appleton, Wisconsin, did a search of the route online asking to avoid all major roads and seek the most direct path. The purpose of the run was multi-faceted. Raising money to purchase race chairs to allow disabled vets and athletes to continue to be a part of society by pushing them during road races and triathlons was one reason.
Number one was to honor our Wisconsin residents lost during their tour of duty in either Afghanistan or Iraq. The total prior to starting the run and the printing of bib numbers bearing the number 158, jumped up to 160 before we left Kenosha. Starting at the hospital where he had been born, on one side of the street and the home he lived in before moving to Appleton. His dad, Mark, was the first veteran to carry the flag on our journey.
En route other veterans took turns carrying Old Glory, some for 3-mile legs and some additional legs, while Brian and I ran the entire way. When there were no veterans to assist, our crew took up the slack and carried the ceremonial, fringed flag loaned to us by the local VFW Post.
The night before, Brian and I gave talks at the headquarters of Secura Insurance and were joined by Clarence Hartley, LTC USAF, retired. Clarence at 82, is a two-time cancer survivor, and won the 80-84 age group at the 2011 Boston Marathon. More impressive is he flew 104 combat missions while in the Air Force.
When we arrived in Kenosha it was near midnight. The plan called for us to be up at 2 a.m., eat, head for the start at 2:30, do an interview with FOX 6 TV News and depart at 3:00 a.m. Some glitches with the camera, tripod and light delayed us by half an hour.
Starting fresh, well even though we did not sleep, as the midnight hour preceded St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across the street. Our legs felt good, but the summer-like air coming days before the official start of spring, would mean things could get tough. They did.
Scorching sun and temperatures in the 80’s beat us down, as we moved northwest, the sun always at our back and side. I suggested we slow down and conserve and pick up the pace during the night. It helped us get through the sunny sections.
As we arrived in the city of Chilton one of the angels we were looking for arrived in the form of a veteran. He said he had a hotel room for us to use, to catch some rest or take a shower. We opted for twenty minutes lying on the top of the two beds. I thought that would help us both. It did me. Brian however was losing his edge.
We had already covered over 100-miles and the distance was now daunting to him. We turned onto a long road, straight as an arrow, and the end was not in sight. I nodded to Brian, our signal to run and he shook his head left to right. He did not think he could run that far.
I told him we didn’t have to run that far, just run up the road for 5 minutes then walk for 5. He took off and from that point on we used the 5 on and 5 off to get us to the finish, at the store where we first met, now named Fleet Feet Fox Valley.
We had predicted 35 hours to finish; we came in just 5 minutes slower. I blamed it on not having an escort through the downtown area and having to stop at each red light.
What a pleasure it was to experience the power of the mind over the body. Another facet of the run was the bonding of two runners with their crew, vets and families. The next time he tackles the 100-mile trail, I know he’ll finish, because now he knows he can.
See you in a few miles….roy