I recently experienced one of the most inspirational weekends of my life. I decided to be a part of the “100 Miles For One Mind.” Sponsored by Always Brothers, 100 Miles for One Mind was created to honor the fallen U.S. service men and women from the State of Washington and to raise money for One Mind for Research. As someone who has only run ten miles once in her life, I joined a relay team of ten of my friends (who all had connections to the military), where each of us would run one leg of the 100 miles. I volunteered to run the very first leg of the run, which began at 6 a.m. on Saturday, August 10. My leg would be 11 miles from Leschi Marina in Seattle to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, where the Seattle Seahawks practice. Luckily, due to the ultra-long distance of the run, everyone was required to keep a 12 minute per mile pace, and nobody would be left behind. It was a run, not a race. The goal was not to finish first, but to finish together.
The founders of the run, Always Brothers, started off as a fraternal organization of Marines who served primarily on Presidential Guard Duty on the Marine Security Forces Teams stationed at Marine Barracks 8th & I (in Washington, DC), The Presidential Retreat Camp David, the White House and the White House Communications Agency. Always Brothers has now grown to encompass veterans, civilians, friends and family members. As an all-volunteer organization, Always Brothers purpose is to create fundraising opportunities to aid the families of fallen veterans or veterans that need assistance.
One Mind for Research is a Seattle based non-profit organization dedicated to coordinating funding and research for the treatment of brain disease, including post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). One Mind for Research is led by CEO Pete Chiarelli, U.S. Army General (retired) who as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army led the Dept. of Defense efforts on PTS, TBI and suicide prevention. One Mind was founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who led the passage of the mental health parity bill, and Garen Staglin who, with his wife Shari, founded the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO). One Mind for Research is currently a division of the non-profit International Mental Health Research Organization, but will soon be a stand-alone non-profit organization.
On Saturday, I arrived at Leschi Marina off Lake Washington at 4:45 a.m. to total darkness. I could see the city of Bellevue twinkling in the distance as I sat in the empty parking lot, wondering if I was at the right location. Soon the cars started arriving and I knew there was no turning back. I would be running with about twenty retired Marines, their friends and family members for my first leg. Before the run would begin, we all gathered in the parking lot for the singing of the National Anthem, a prayer, and we heard from the Brothers why this run was so important.
A few years ago, these brothers decided to embark on a mission to honor one of their fallen brothers. They started with a challenge – who wants to run 100 miles? As everyone knows, Marines will never back down from a challenge. The first run took place in Maryland in 2011, honoring fallen fellow Camp David Marine , Captain Tyler B. Swisher, and raising money for his family. In May 2012, a second run was held, “100 Miles for LIMA Company,” honoring the 22 Marines and a Navy Corpsman of Lima Company who were killed in action. For this run, the Marines and supporting members of Always Brothers raised money for the education of the 15 children left behind by the heroes of Lima Company. Always Brothers deposited the funds raised in to State 529 Plans that were created for the children by their parents and guardians. These funds were in access of $80,000.
It was a very emotional moment for everyone. For me to witness the true camaraderie these Marine brothers had for each other, and for those whose spirits live on in their hearts was a beautiful thing. These men and women fight for our freedom, even if it costs them their life. And for those who leave this world, those left behind will make sure that their names are never forgotten.
At 6 a.m., we were off. We began our run hiking up a huge staircase to get to the I-90 Bridge towards Mercer Island. Soon we found ourselves running across the I-90 Bridge. One of the Marines in the front of our group held the Marine Corps flag as we ran. I cannot count how many cars honked at us as we ran the span of the floating bridge over Lake Washington.
The Marines and their family members that were in my running group were so kind. We chatted, we laughed, we walked up some of the hills – it was a very pleasant time. The air was cool and crisp early in the morning as we ran through the top of Lid Park on Mercer Island, through neighborhoods, and under bridges. I did surprisingly well for myself. Around mile 8, I realized I was starting to get pretty dehydrated and all I could think about was how much I wanted to drink someone’s water. We finally hit a water stop and I grabbed a bottle of water and drank over half the bottle immediately. I realized my mistake when I started getting cramps, but I had to power through. Finally, I saw a sign from the trail that said “Entering Renton” and I knew the Seahawks training facility would not be far behind. And just like that, my 11 miles were finished. I passed the running baton onto my friend, Russ, who was waiting for me so he could run the second leg and gave my friends Kim and Andrea a hug who were there to pick me up and cheer me on. And the Marines pressed on. Eleven miles was the most I had ever ran in my life and I was so happy that I was able to do it and be a part of something with so much meaning.
Throughout the day, the Marines kept going, other runners joined them at each leg. Some of the Marines had to drop out of the run, only to join later. All of Saturday, into Saturday night, into Sunday morning, they ran. They ran for each other, they ran for those that had lost their lives for our country.
On Sunday morning, August 11, I met up with three of my relay teammates that had previously run different legs of the run. We met at a park near the finish line at CenturyLink Field and we waited for updates from those still pounding the pavement. We finally saw them about a mile away from the stadium and we ran towards them to rejoin the group. All of us ran to the finish line together.
With about eight Seattle Police officers escorting the group on their motorcycles, we ran to CenturyLink Field. With the Marine Corps flag held high, crowds of Seattleites and tourists watching us and cheering us on, we all made it to the finish line together. Two of the runners ran the entire 100 miles. Some of my teammates ended up running 3 legs, totaling 30 miles, including one who was wounded in Afghanistan last year. Everyone was tired, exhausted and weary. But we were done. It was such an amazing experience to be there at the end. I also received my first challenge coins, one from Always Brothers/One Mind for Research and one from the USO Northwest.
To be a part of this event that had so much meaning for so many was such an honor. I will never forget this time I spent running for something that was bigger than myself.