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2009 Marine Corps Marathon (Article Reference)

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Written by Pat Curran

Posted on 17 January 2018

Last Updated 17 January 2018

“Victory does not come to the strongest or the fastest; it comes to the one who decides that failure is not an option.” Marine Corps Proverb

Dear All,

Thank you for the privilege and honor of representing you at the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon as your Fisher House representative.  This final journal entry will focus on describing the experience of running the marathon with some of the finest, most inspiring individuals one could every meet.

Also worthy of note, the amount of donations doubled since my “last call” email several weeks ago.  Thank you so much for your generosity.  For those curious about the cause and fundraising efforts feel free to visit us at http://www.active.com/donate/FisherHouse2009MCM/1PCurran1.  The site will remain open for a few more weeks.

Because of the support I have received from many of you, I was able to run my personal best time of 4 hours 29 minutes.  However, more important to me than the race time was the journey experienced on that very day.  It serves as an affirmation that this nation is filled with passionate people who care deeply about others and are willing to serve something bigger than themselves.

October 25, 2009:  40,000 Stand Together at Washington D.C. to Celebrate Freedom, the Fallen, and the Future

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their beloved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

--4th Verse of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key, 1814

On Sept. 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key visited the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes, who had been captured after the burning of Washington, DC. The release was secured, but Key was detained on ship overnight during the shelling of Fort McHenry, one of the forts defending Baltimore. In the morning, he was so delighted to see the American flag still flying over the fort that he began writing a poem to commemorate the occasion.  This poem now entitled “The Star Spangled Banner” not only serves as our national anthem today, but also serves as our link to those who bravely overcame tyranny and sustained their courage during our country’s vulnerable youth.  Every generation after the War of 1812 has succeeded in protecting America both at home and abroad.

I am proud to report to you that the same fight, faith, and spirit which founded this nation remains vibrant today at the 34th Annual Marine Corps Marathon.  Far from being burned down, Washington, DC hosts over 40,000 participants and bystanders made up of all ages, genders, nationalities, and perspectives.  The range of diversity is enormous from the very disciplined runner to people dressed up in superhero costumes.  Flags from the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, Denmark, and across the globe are waving proudly in support.  Young adults are standing near parents and grandparents.  Hundreds are in wheelchairs and thousands are wearing T-Shirts for their respective charity, a fallen veteran, firefighter, cop, and of course, beloved victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.  All of us are here, standing united for freedom, for self-expression, for the betterment of the human condition.

It’s now 7:45 am.  Mark and I are standing in a sea of runners waiting in anticipation for the start of the marathon.  We hear remarks from several speakers to include Senator Leahy and Montel Williams.  We then stand at attention with hand-over-heart singing the national anthem.  Motivation is high here at what is referred to in marathon circles as the “People’s Marathon.”

Suddenly, the crowd hears a loud and thunderous “BOOM!” from the howitzers which is followed by an eruption of cheers.  The announcers let us know that the disabled runners have begun!!  These are the inspiring heroes that fill each of us with pride and admiration of their spirit.  Written on one T-Shirt I read from a legless runner, “Think You’re In Pain:  33 Surgeries and Still Surviving!!

We all transition from cheers to non-stop applause as the disabled lead us all on our 26.2 mile journey.  10 minutes later the howitzers fire again.  That’s our signal:  The remaining 30,000 of us fall behind the lead element of disabled participants on the march to victory.  You see, as the Marine Corps proverb states, “Victory does not come to the strongest or the fastest; it comes to the one who decides that failure is not an option.”

During the first 2 miles of the race, Mark and I are surrounded by excited runners and cheering bystanders.  There is a temptation to run faster than our planned race pace, but we wisely resist.  Then at the end of Mile 2 we go up a steep hill for a mile where we start to see runners slow down considerably and even walk.  We too purposely slow our race pace down to absorb the obstacle and let it pass through us.  The next 5 miles go down a narrow highway with little room for bystanders.  At this point, I feel like a bond forms around us as runners.  We all experience rolling hills together.  Psychologically I am sure that everyone has their share of mental noise; however on the outside, all is quiet.  We hear little more than the pitter-patter of footsteps and heavy breathing.

Miles 7 through 16 have Mark and I keeping a below 10 min mile pace.  I notice that very little has changed from the year prior with regards to seeing others around me carrying American flags, struggling with their wheelchairs, and trying to continue running with prosthetic limbs.  Countless others wearing “In Memory of … T-shirts” or cards on their backs honoring those who were killed fighting the War on Terror.

Now at Mile 17 we notice a significant change in our race pace.  We’ve slowed by 20 seconds after what I think to be a great effort.  This is the first signal that the invisible wall is closing in.  Each mile ahead will be a fight.  Each step will require more mind, heart, and soul to see the race all the way through.  Every bit of positive energy and spirit around me is to be absorbed.  In return, I am to give as much of my own positive energy back out as possible.

It’s now Mile 18.  I am speaking to Mark in a semi-delirious state trying to keep humor in an otherwise challenging situation.  We laugh a lot.  Then Mark says to me in a serous voice, “Pat, look ahead at the young girl in the white T-shirt, red letters.”  I notice he is not laughing.  My eyes are not as good as they used to be, so I force myself to pick up the pace.  This girl, who must have been 13 or 14 years old had a T-Shirt that read, ”CPL J. Fielding:  I love you, Dad.  We miss you!!” Once my mind comprehends what I read, a pocket of air becomes trapped in my lungs.  The air becomes forced out of my chest through a short, violent cough.  Simultaneously tears coming streaming from my eyes.  “My God,” I think, “The character that this young girl possesses is immeasurable.”   As a Dad of 2 girls I wanted to just hug her and say, “I am so sorry.”  But immediately I realize that I don’t have to.  He is already there with her, running right beside her and will be with her forever.  I know this memory will remain deeply ingrained in my heart and mind for the rest of my life.  I thank CPL J. Fielding for what he has given to his country and what he continues to give through his memory.  I pledge to be worthy in deeds and actions, so help me God.

Now we’re crossing the bridge near Mile 21 heading toward Reagan International Airport.  Mark reminds me that we are about an hour faster than we were a year ago.  Next I hear a yell from behind me, “Make way!!  Blind wheel chair on the left...”  As I look over my left shoulder I see 3 wheelchairs:  1 legless person in the lead, a blind legless person in the middle, and a single legged person just behind.  Remarkable I think.  I just don’t have words…

Now at Mile 24 we are passing the crash site of Flight 77 which hit the Pentagon on September 11th.  Mark and I are lucky enough to join a small group of flag bearers.  In the front is the American flag.  On the sides are the Marine Corps and POW/MIA flags.  On the back of the lead man carrying the American flag reads a sign:  34 Marine Corps Marathon’s in a Row and Counting.”  The man yells out to us all, “Here we are at the crash site.  Please join us for a 21 second salute to the victims of Flight 77 and those within the Pentagon.  Mark and I stop, stand at attention, and say our prayers.  After we are done, the man starts calling cadence.  We all sing along with great pride.  He mentions how his Drill Instructor from 1966 taught him well.  The group affords me the honor of calling a round of cadence.  I sound off with an Airborne cadence learned from Drill Sergeant Thompson back in July 1992.

Now on the last stretch of 1.2 miles, Mark continues to motivate me in order to keep going.  He picks up the pace in an effort to help me complete the marathon in less than 4 hours 30 minutes.  He tells me to look to the left and see each monument to sacrifice (tombstone) within Arlington cemetery.  He also points out funny signs like “That’s Not Sweat, That’s Your Fat Cells Crying,”  “You’re Feet Hurt Because Your Kicking Ass,” and a spoof on Hollywood’s version of Delta Force, “Not Even Chuck Norris Completed Marine Corps Marathon.”  All of it keeps me going.

As we hit the last 0.2 miles up the hill to the finish line, I give everything I have left.  “Come on, Pat!!  Your too damn close!” exclaims Mark.  As a result of his big push, Mark succeeds in his goal.  He paces me to my personal best marathon time of 4 hours 29 min and 12 seconds.  This 1 hour and 6 minutes faster than the year before.

We walk up to the Iwo Jima Monument to receive our medal.  A Marine casts this medal over our heads and all other finishers.  It represents a well-earned “mission complete.”  From there, not much is said between Mark and me for a good 20 minutes.  No “high-fives.”  No screams of joy.  We did it and no one can take it away from us.  Just as when we served as soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division, that’s all that is needed.  We’re quiet professionals who can be counted on to get the job done.  It is only later among a close circle of friends do we start sharing our stories modestly and enjoy what we’ve accomplished.

To view of few pictures click http://www.marathonfoto.com/index.cfm?RaceOID=13692009F1&LastName=CURRAN&BibNumber=34418&Mailing=23371

Final Thoughts from the 2009 Fisher House Charity Fund Raising Drive:

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to represent you as part of the Fisher House organization.  Your support of Fisher House directly helps severely wounded servicemen and servicewoman stay close to their families by covering all of their lodging costs during long recovery/rehabilitation periods.  Through their continued love, encouragement, and support, families are able to help these wounded heroes find their way to their own “finish line” or that place where one can let go of the past and embrace a new, more meaningful future.

From a personal perspective, this year’s experience has led me back to my core principles and has given me the focus to rebuild in key areas that have been neglected for too long.  Writing journal entries in the spirit of providing a record to my daughters Elizabeth and Lauren also have given me a unique way of documenting the experience.  I hope it serves as a reference to them for when they are out of their comfort zones trying to find a way to adapt and overcome.

To close, this journey will continue in some form or another.  I have found that it is far wiser to actively experience life rather than sit idle contemplating about its meaning.  No one does anything worthwhile on their own.  I want to thank everyone who has given me a call, sent an email, given a donation, provided advice, or have pulled me to the side to check if my sanity was still intact.  Most of all, I would like to thank my wife, Gina, who somehow puts up with this all.

Hope you enjoyed the journey with me.  It has been another inspiring year serving the Fisher House…

With Great Sincerity and Respect,

--Pat