“I thought they said seventy-five dollars,” my grandpa once told me when I asked why he joined the Marine Corps all those years ago. “That was a lot of money back then. None of the other branches paid that much. It turns out they said Semper Fidelis, not seventy-five dollars.”
I assumed he was joking but whatever his motives, he became a sergeant in the Marine Corps, served in the Pacific Campaign during World War II, and fought in places such as Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. He returned home a Purple Heart recipient but unable to speak of his experiences for many, many years. Luckily, by the time my fascination with World War II blossomed, he began to open up. At the time of his death in 2012, he had been wearing his USMC veteran status openly and proudly for years.
It is because of his stories, his life, and his valor that I am emotionally driven by all things related to the Marines Corps. I saw the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) booth at the expo of one of my first runDisney races nearly five years ago. Being new to running at the time, I never imagined I would ever want to run a marathon, but if I did, the Marine Corps would be at the top of the list.
Fast-forward through numerous half marathons and three full marathons, I checked the feat of running the MCM off of my bucket list. On October 25, 2015, I lived by running with the Marines. I lined up with over 30,000 other runners at the start of the most emotional race I have ever been part of. The vast majority of participants didn’t run this race solely for the love of the sport. While running any marathon requires dedication and commitment months prior to race day, the participants of this particular race understood that they ran for something far greater than themselves. On the race route, they were not going to be alone; with them would be the service men and women to whom their miles were dedicated. Many runners dedicated their miles to at least one person whose name and/or photo could be found represented somewhere on their clothing. It was humbling to know our service members have not been forgotten.
I ran for my grandpa, a friend’s father, a friend’s grandfather, my mom’s patient and his friend who lost his life in Vietnam, and a fellow college alumni lost during a sky diving training accident earlier this year.
If the constant reminder of patriotism wasn’t enough to propel me through the course, the Marines in uniform handing out water and supporting runners along the way offered that additional push to keep my legs from quitting. Nothing though prepared me for mile 12: the wear blue Mile. I expected it would be emotional, but I didn’t realize how greatly it would affect me. Seeing pictures of fallen military members flanking both sides of the street caused the lump in my throat to grow with each step. I had to stop to walk at one point; it didn’t feel right to whiz past these faces without paying a silent tribute to their lives, not to mention the weight of it all made it extraordinarily difficult to breathe. This mile paid homage to the ultimate sacrifices people have made for the land of the free. (This video was taken by a volunteer during the early portion of the race if you want to see what the blue mile is all about.)
I had trained for this marathon more than any other previous race. I couldn’t be weak. I needed to run strong for the men on the back of my shirt. By mile 20, I was ready to be finished. No more marathons for me after this. My running slowed and the side stitches grew more frequent. The thought crossed my mind that I could walk the final six miles and finish the race without a problem, but I knew I didn’t train to walk. I trained to run and finish strong.
At mile 24, I pulled out the photo of my grandpa I had tucked in my fuel belt and for the next 2.2 miles I ran with it in my hand. After the race, my mom asked whether or not I had talked to my grandpa while I ran to give me strength. I didn’t need to. I only had to look down to his picture to be reminded of why I put myself through this torture. I ran for those who couldn’t, for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, for those who never complained about being in worse predicaments than a measly 26.2 miles in a country founded on freedom.
As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I knew that every ounce of energy I had put towards this race had been worth it. The last 26.2 miles changed me for the better. I had never cried while playing a sport, not when getting bashed in the face with a high-speed soccer ball, not when failing to win a cheerleading competition, and not when I received a perfect ten in gymnastics. But this marathon nearly brought me to tears numerous times thanks to the wear blue Mile, the personal tributes, and the enormous amount of patriotism seen along the course.
Now, I no longer dread running because every time I lace up I dedicate my runs to those who gallantly defend our country. I am able to keep living and writing about it because of these brave men and women. I lived on October 25, 2015 because of them and for them.
Until next time MCM…and yes, there will be a next time. Oorah!
Find out more about Wear Blue: Run to Remember – join me in wearing their apparel during future races.