Running has been a part of my life since my freshman year of high school when I used it to give me an edge on the soccer field, but I quickly grew to enjoy it as more than just a means to an end, and decided to pursue it competitively as a member of the high school track team. Running and a competitive spirit aren’t exactly unique to me, nor are they exceptionally inspiring, but high school isn’t where my journey stops.
After graduating, I made a decision to join the Marine Corps, not because I didn’t have other options in front of me, but because I felt I had the ability and the opportunity to serve my country at a time when it was growingly unpopular to do so. To be quite honest, it literally turned my world upside down like I had never imagined possible. Very few things from my life remained intact or untouched, and my experiences in the Marines… from boot camp to Iraq, and beyond… shook the foundations of my identity and my beliefs.
Running was one of those things that stayed with me in spite of everything else. It was like a time machine, taking me back home when I couldn’t be there in reality. It was no longer about being competitive; it became an intimate thing that kept me from forgetting where I came from. It might seem like I am exaggerating what running has meant to me, but it really does have that power.
Being in Iraq was the most mentally taxing time of my life, and it was the peak of every fear I have ever had. I was an infantry rifleman in the al-Anbar province of Iraq during 2005, and hope in anything nearly ran dry by the end of our tour. We had lost 48 Marines and sailors, many of them whom I had known well and been friends with. My love for running remained a source of comfort while overseas, but certainly the stress had taken its toll, even on that.
By the time we came home, I was a different person than the one who my family and friends had known before. I was a mess emotionally and mentally, not being able to wrap my mind around what I had seen and been through. My relationship and faith in God, which was so obvious in high school, was now marred with doubt and anger. Nothing was even remotely okay in my life.
My healthy relationships and activities couldn’t keep up with the trauma, and either took a secondary position in my life, or dissipated completely. I began smoking, drinking, and using drugs to cope with it all… sending me on a dark path that would take me years in the wrong direction.
I was (and still am to quite an extent) a textbook case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Therapy and an assortment of medications, have done very little in helping me recover, and I scrambled for years trying to find something that helps me put everything in a proper perspective, with limited success.
Near the end of 2007 I began to realize that I wasn’t using the abilities God had naturally instilled in me to cope with loss and to process my emotions. I had been avoiding my relationship with him, wasting my competitive spirit and athletic ability, in addition to other things that I had at my disposal all along.
I am not “cured” of PTSD by any means, and I am unsure that it will ever pass completely… but my relationship with God and using my athletic ability He gave me in running have everything to do with how far I have come. Healthy choices and goals in running have contributed to successfully fighting off addictions to alcohol and various drugs. I use running as my outlet, as my therapy, and as a means to process my thinking and feeling. In 2009 I began running competitively again, for the first time since high school track, but this year (2010) it’s not about me anymore, it’s about leveraging my ability to help others.
All of the running I do this year… I intend to do it with the intention of helping others. Whether it’s raising money for a cause I believe in, establishing friendships with other runners, or helping a new runner develop a healthy lifestyle. The culmination of this, and something I am really excited about, is a 100-mile endurance run, myself and several of the guys I was with in Iraq are organizing to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project and to honor our 48 fallen brothers.