Something that stuck in my head from my adventures over the weekend as I volunteered for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon..
I was at the Finish Line of the MCHH, stationed with Kimani and a stretcher ready to catch people as they drop across the finish line. Fortunately, there were very few people that required my assistance, but this left me in a perfect position to witness the faces of the half marathon finishers. We weren’t stationed at the finish until about 9:30 am, so we were watching the last half or third or so of people finish the race. These were obviously not as fast as others, but scope of achievement for them as they crossed that line was proudly apparent on their faces. Many were out of shape, or it was a first race, but for all, a huge accomplishment. One man came across the finish line shaking and crumbled as we placed him onto a stretcher. He was still sort of spazzing as he’s being tied into the stretcher, and we finally make out, “I finished, I finished!” Then there were the Marines, handing chilled bottles of water to finishers and saying, “Good job, sir,” or “Good job, ma’am”. As the finishers walked through the finish chute, there was literally a wall of Marines, armed with finisher medals. I was helping somebody walk off cramps as they progressed through the chute – at this point most finishers were coming across staggered, one at a time – we approach that wall of Marines, and one steps forward, ready to decorate my cramping finisher with his heavy medal. It was an odd reversal, the Marine decorating the civilian. But for many, this race seemed to reflect the general feeling of “I don’t know what I can do for you; but I can push myself through 13.1 miles to show you I appreciate what you do for me. And it won’t be near enough pain I’m going through to come close to showing how much I really want to thank you.”
It seemed as if the later the race progressed, the more solemn, and proud, and satisfying the finish was. The Marine next to me told me why of all the race duties he’s done before this was by far his favorite. “You see their faces before or during the race. But it’s so much more gratifying to see them cross the finish. The achievement is written all over their faces. I like being able to say ‘Good Job,’ right here.” (I’m paraphrasing from what I remember, and I wish I had gotten this guy’s name).
There’s nothing like a good-looking Marine handing you cold water at the finish. I can’t tell you how these Marines made the day for the finishers. From the daughter-mother-grandmother team I watched cross the finish hand-in-hand to the 80-year-olds proudly stride through, having these Marines here meant the world.
Besides being stationed at the finish line, served alongside current and retired Marines at Medical Operations and got to know them all a bit. Our OIC (officer-in-charge) at Aid Station 2 was a vet named Harold. What a character, definitely fun and enlightening spending the morning with him and Kimani, our former enlisted, currently working as civilian staff at Quantico. Hearing some of their stories and backgrounds - Harold has been on 7 tours of Iraq - and basically hanging out with Marines all day gave me a little flavor of the culture. I couldn't be prouder of them.
A race is a humbling experience. You push your body through what your brain tells you shouldn’t or couldn’t be done. At the end, you’re spent, physically, and sometimes emotionally. People race for different reasons. Some are trying to push themselves, see how far they can go past possibility or comfort. Some are competing, trying to outrace the man or woman ahead of them. Some are raising money or awareness for a worthy cause. Some are racing for all three. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be not only celebrating my heart surgery recovery with the Marine Corps Marathon, but to be fundraising for Semper Fi Fund at the same time. I am so proud of my Marines. Our Marines. They deserve a lot from us, and I can at least do this.