12-26-2013 09:14 AM
The U.S. Capitol Building is among the national landmarks along the route of the Marine Corps Marathon.
By Ramona Teter, senior communications partner, Enterprise Affairs
By virtue of its name, I knew the Marine Corps Marathon would be different from other races I’d run. I also knew it would be different because it would take me by some of the most iconic landmarks symbolizing American freedom. I just didn’t know how different it would be.
The uniqueness of this race became apparent only minutes after the howitzer blasted to signal the start of the 26.2-mile trek through our nation’s capital. Amid 30,000 runners, handcyclists and wheelchair athletes, one runner’s shirt caught my eye. The image of a young Marine was screened on the back of the shirt.
“In memory of Joshua B.,” the shirt read above the image.
I moved up beside the runner to express my condolences.
“Was he a relative?” I asked.
“My brother,” he replied. “Helicopter went down in Afghanistan.”
Pausing to catch a breath, he added, “I’m really not a runner. I didn’t train very well. But I’m doing this for him.”
That moment changed everything for me.
I'd arrived at the race that morning hoping to set a personal finish-time record — not an unusual goal for repeat marathoners, given our human nature. But the encounter with this “nonrunner” honoring his fallen brother gave me pause. Suddenly, my quest for a personal best seemed trivial, and I let it go.
At that moment, I began to look at the race participants all around me. I saw strength, courage and sacrifice represented in every direction. These athletes were heroes, and they became the focus of the rest of my run.
I saw a disabled veteran racing in a wheelchair while his son, draped in a Marine flag, jogged beside him.
A double-amputee veteran whizzed past me, maneuvering a handcycle.
A blind man navigated the course on foot guided by an ably sighted partner.
And there were more tributes: Moms and dads ran to honor their military sons and daughters. Hundreds of runners wore shirts bearing the names of organizations that help veterans and their families. And some paid tribute to victims of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Throughout the course, I also saw numerous athletes and spectators carrying large flags: American flags, Wounded Warrior Project flags and the flags of every service branch.
Marines donning camouflage ran the course with combat boots on their feet and backpacks strapped to their shoulders, while their comrades handed out water and fruit to keep runners hydrated and nourished.
At the finish line, uniformed Marines cheered and congratulated every finisher. The moment a Marine placed a finisher’s medal around my neck and saluted me was indescribably moving. As was the grandeur of the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Marines’ most iconic symbol of freedom, which provided a most fitting and climactic finale.
I didn’t set a new personal record that day. But it didn’t matter because what I experienced along the way was much more meaningful and lasting.
This race wasn’t about the number of miles traveled or the time it took to run them. It was about honoring those who’ve sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms.
This race made me that much more thankful and proud to work for USAA and to live in this country.
And that’s what made it different.
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