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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Indefinitely Indebted

Literally hundreds of people need to be thanked for this past Memorial Day weekend, so many people worked so hard to put the Memorial 100 together that I simply can't name them all... but here is what I hope is a solid attempt.

The reason we ran, the reason we have freedom...

We can never repay the thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives for the sake of freedom. We ran in memory of 48 Marines and Corpsman, who gave up their lives in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq in 2005:

SSgt Joseph Goodrich, one of the greatest men and Marines that I've ever met. I will never forget the day he lost his life, when just an hour before he went on patrol he was encouraging me to remember why we we do what we do as Marines, at a time when I was losing sight of it.

LCpl Ryan Kovacicek, who could always bring my thoughts back to Indiana when I needed someone who knew the same places I did, to help me not forget where I was from.

Cpl Joseph Tremblay, who volunteered so that he could fight alongside his brothers, knowing that it might cost him his life, but being selfless enough to run the risk. He had higher ideals than his own well being, and is an inspiration to the rest of us to live it out.

Cpl Bryan Richardson, always willing to help out wherever and whenever he was needed, even if it meant showing a boot PFC how to operate a field radio 8,000 times before he got the hang of it. The definition of patience, cool and collected no matter what.

We lost men who we considered our brothers out of mutual experience, to some it was a much deeper loss.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Amy Goodrich-Torbert! I don't know how you do it. Even before we deployed, you were the ultimate sister to all of us, and you have never abandoned that role. I can't imagine what losing Joe was like for you, but I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he would be proud of the woman you continue to be. The Memorial 100 wouldn't have been possible without you. The time, the money, and the effort you put in are unmatched. I sincerely hope that it brought you comfort to know how much he meant to us, and that not only he was honored, but you as well.

Larry Tremblay, when I met you the night before the run, it gave me all the motivation I needed.  My parents lost two sons, so I have a glimpse of the pain that I know you are all too familiar with. To be as strong as you are to stand with us in continuing to honor your son's memory is no small task, and it meant the world for you to be there with us. Rest assured that we will never forget your son.

Ariel Hochman, I have never met you, and I might not get to. When I received your email, and knew that you were behind us for this thing, it was invaluable. You're family to all of us, so don't forget that we mourn Ryan with you.

For my brother who thought this crazy idea up...

Nathan Huffman, this all started because of your idea, and then you proceeded to pull it off despite a thousand obstacles in the way. I'm proud to have served with you, and to have run this thing along side you. I don't think anyone felt as much pressure as you to make this thing a success, and it truly was. Personally, this whole thing from beginning to end, has helped me deal with all the issues I have battled since Iraq, and I am grateful to you for motivating me to do it. Some people think the whole "brother" thing in the military is bullshit, but I can't think of any other word I would use for you.

For the guys that I trusted with my life in Iraq, and then for this run...

Doc Sukitch and Doc Iem, I don't give a damn if either of you are an MD, if I ever get shot or blown up, I'm calling you guys before I go to the hospital. In my book, Corpsman are Marines that just have shittier M16's and more crap to carry. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else (outside of maybe Doc Moe and the rest of the gang) driving behind us. Brothers indeed.

To the only Marine I'm okay with being a better runner than me...

Ferkett, you long legged bastard, you have always been there for me when I needed you, even when I was way off my rocker when we got home. It was no surprise that you were on board from the start, and no matter how long I go without seeing you, my respect for you will always be intact. You're one of the best Marines I know, and I'll always be up for running along side you, just so long as I don't slow you down.

To the best support crew we could have asked for...

James Huffman, your support of your son and of our effort in this event, being there every step of the way was fantastic.

Ron McFarland, having you let us use your ridiculously nice RV, being awake for a ridiculous amount of time, and driving the slowest 100 miles of your life made the whole thing a lot less painless than it could have been otherwise.

Sarai Hasegawa, for being supportive of me through the planning and preparation and then despite the certainty of awkwardness accompanied me on the journey. We won't ever forget the event, but having your photo record of the whole thing will certainly help.

Eileen Sukitch, riding shotgun for 24 hours and making sure your husband didn't fall asleep or have a flashback and think he was driving a humvee in Iraq was probably more valuable than we are aware of.

Ileana Adams, who drove all over the Virginia countryside with your kids in support of your husband and us, all the while accruing bizarre gifts for your daughter from Marines hitting up the yard sales along Rt 1.

Christy Huffman, your husband said that during labor you told him he had to run this thing, that's bad ass.

To our adopted family of runners, who ran with us and supported us the whole way...

Jeremy Soles, you're a freaking beast, a brother by your birth on Parris Island, and motivating as hell... who the hell else would use the S&M man cadences for the last 3 miles of a 100 mile relay, right after running with a gas mask on?

Brittany Davis, single handedly doubling interest from street side spectators, and matching your man in bad assness by throwing up so you could run more legs of the relay.

Courtney Ryan, for picking the hottest time of the day to run, after popping out a baby only months before. You beasted those climbs, forgive me for thinking you might fall out.

Teagan Ryan, our youngest participant, who will look at pictures later and tell people that she ran her first ultramarathon as an infant. Pretty sure she's also the cutest baby I have ever seen (no offense Huff).

Caroline Allen, who could have probably ran her sections faster than everyone except Ferkett, and put up with 5 miles alongside Chongo.

Sarah Matthew, busting your man's balls as if you were one of us and running like a champ.

Anthony and Heather Crokus, our most random acquaintance in the group... finding my blog through a post I put on the Pittsburgh Marathon page, and being so interested in what we were doing that they drove through the night to meet us and then ran despite a lack of sleep and the presence of injury, making sure we had at least 3 branches of service represented. Who says you can't make great friends on the internet?

Jimmy Torbert, the man with big shoes to fill... I don't think anyone could have picked a better guy to be with Amy. A non-runner, running out of love for his wife and in honor of her late husband. Selfless, completely selfless. Nothing short of amazing, you're a great guy.

Mike Kiniry, serving double duty in running and helping out with the police escort, I don't think anyone got as little sleep as you.

To the some the best damn Marines in the USMC who fought with me in Iraq and ran with me during the Memorial 100...

Segrist, my sawgunner, an enabler, a Michael Jackson enthusiast, and sometimes a really big asshole. I'd want no other Marine in a firefight over you, and to have you be a part of this was awesome.

Ryan, running while pushing a baby and being pregnant is no small feat, and you nailed it.

Thomas, when I was running high school track they had a motto that the gayer they were the faster they would run... clearly that wasn't accurate, or else you would have been pulling 6 minute miles.

Chongo, who would have ever thought you would be running behind a police cruiser instead of in front of it? The border must be pretty hilly, because you clearly had prior experience.

Adams, I don't remember you ever being able to run a PFT in under an hour, let alone 5 miles, well done sir.

Boyko, with all that down time in Al-Asad, I expected a little faster effort from you, you fundraising Nazi.

Beck, I can't think of anything to bust your balls about. I don't know how that's even possible, must have been all that practice from 10 years of staying under the radar as a LCpl. So I guess, good job?

Oguss, every time I closed my eyes when I was near you I thought I was standing next to Paris Hilton with a retarded Jersey accent. That run was pretty hot huh?

Finnerty, my knee brace is missing a rubber tube from inside, I know it looks like a sex toy, but seriously?

Darling, I could make a weight joke... but that would be way to easy and besides, I highly suspect you of being the one who whose swamp ass made the RV feel like we were trapped inside a septic tank.

To our amazing safety crew and escort, we wouldn't have been able to do anything without your participation. I don't know how many Police Departments and EMS Squads were involved or how many  individuals gave up their off days, just to help us out.

Captain Kiniry and the Richmond Police Department, you had everything to do with us establish a solid route, getting all the jurisdictions on board, and keeping us safe for the duration of the event. Your sacrificial participation had everything to do with us pulling it all off, and your presence and passion for what we were doing was motivating.

To the wonderful, generous people that helped us nearly double our fundraising goal. It was $5,000 and we made it to $9,521. I don't know all of you, and some I can't see because you donated on behalf of others, but you all came together to make a huge difference.

Roger Bock, your giving breathed new life into this thing and made us believe we could raise the money when you secured are largest single donation ($1,000) from the Marine Corps Family Support Community, and then gave $100 of your own money in support of us.

Sandy Kimmel, always there for me since I was 15 years old, and blowing my mind with your generosity once again with your donation of $500.

Imbrogno, for helping out with a generous donation in getting our operational expenses taken care of.

To our pre-run hosts...

Grandpa Eddies Alabama Ribs and Barbeque, your food was amazing, even if there was nothing that had any carbs. Letting us take over your restaurant was a ballsy move, but it helped us raise even more support and awareness for what we were doing. Fan-freaking-tastic.

For our many sponsors and workers who helped out with providing gear and food, at a discounted cost or sometimes completely free...

Steve DeKoker from the Brooks ID Program, you made me proud to be a part of the Brooks family, and I was blown away that you were so quick to help out by providing 30 tech shirts for the run. Everyone loved them, and we are greatly appreciative of your willingness to help out. Not only that, but to spotlight me on the Brooks webpage and draw interest from the ID running community was amazing and certainly contributed to our success.

NUUN, for giving us discounted electrolyte tablets that certainly helped keep us hydrated and cramp free.

Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, for your extremely generous contribution in providing shoes, gear, and an assortment of performance foods at no charge.

Sign-a-Rama, for providing magnetic Wounded Warrior Project decals for all the support vehicles at no charge.

Sgt. Grit, for providing the US and Marine Corps flags that we carried from Richmond to DC.

Lindsay Kronmiller, for designing the wonderful shirts and getting them all printed in time for the run. You made us look legit, instead of a bunch of morons running down the street.

YWCA Columbus, never have I worked at a place that was so supportive of me in pursuits outside of work, getting all of our wonderful staff behind me, gathering donations, letting me post fliers, enabling me to have the time off to run, and then feature our efforts in a spotlight section of the company newsletter. Add this to the list of reasons why I love my job.

For the only politician who showed any real interest in what were doing...

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), your willingness to meet with Huffman, advocate for us among your peers, and getting the ball rolling with our park permits made a huge difference and prevented this whole thing from being derailed.

To the only reporter willing to run our story (that I am aware of) before the event...

Gina Cavallaro of the Marine Corps Times, you have a passion akin to ours through your experiences as an embedded reporter, and that passion certainly showed in the wonderful article you wrote on us.

Thanks also goes to LtCol Chris Douglas for setting us up with Gina, and providing encouragement whenever we needed it.

To all of my wonderful friends and supporters who helped in a thousand different ways...

Dr. Scott Gosselin, who fixed my back last year to keep me running, and then offered his services free of charge as his contribution to this run, so that my back wouldn't prevent me from running. On top of that, he has become a good friend and avid supporter of my running endeavors.

Tori Kise, who sent out countless donation letters, helped me edit my fliers, and was supportive from the very beginning.

Matt Kirkendall, who spread the word, offered to help in a thousand different ways (even if I didn't utilize all of it) and was there from the start.

Brian Visnosky, for letting me bounce ideas off of you and giving me ones I would have never thought up on my own.

And to the rest...

The over 500 members of our Facebook group, my entire family that has been behind me the whole way, everyone that helped out even for the smallest detail, all the Marines of 3/25, my friends, our donors, and hundreds of other people that helped make this what it was... a HUGE success!

Thank You!!!

Semper Fi,

Joe Shearer

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Memorial 100

Seven months of planning, training, and stress... all completely and undeniably worth it.

As many of you who read this know, back in November Nathan Huffman came to me with an idea to honor the 48 Marines and Navy Corpsman that we lost during our 2005 deployment to the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq. The idea was to run from the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond to the Marine Corps Memorial in Washington DC.

I knew the distance of just over 100 miles was possible, I had met many people who had done the distance... but it still seemed like a pretty huge task for two amateur runners to take on. We thankfully drew the immediate interest of Kyle Ferkett, another Marine that served with us and then Amy Goodrich-Torbert, the wife of SSgt Goodrich, whom we lost in Iraq.

Even though it was great to have them on board, I knew if we didn't have more people backing us up and couldn't find a banner to run under, to give us legitimacy, that we would never get this thing off the ground. Many of our Marines who had been injured in Iraq, had been helped out by the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that I had only heard positive reports about. When we established contact with them, we had ourselves the banner, so next was the bodies. Thank God for the social networking revolution, because Facebook then became one our biggest allies.

We grew by the surprisingly tedious work of sending out emails, making phone calls, posting flyers, and writing blog posts. Slowly but surely we recruited dozens, then hundreds of people, all willing to provide support in various degrees. Not too long into our adventure we realized we had quite a few people that wanted to be in the thick of it, and help us get to DC by more than just monetary donation.

When it got to the point where we knew we had to go forward with it, no matter what, and we decided to include a relay to give other Marines and supporters a chance to participate in the event itself. In true Marine fashion, our brothers didn't leave the task to take on by ourselves.

The last months of winter, we trained our asses off, and I personally put up my largest mileage ever in training. All was well, except that our donations were trickling in at a depressingly slow rate. Months rolled out quickly and we began to meet challenges and tough questions. We weren't getting any press outlets on board, we realized we needed permits, we needed police involvement, legal advice, etc. All the while, each of us came into personal issues... Huffman's wife was due the same weekend we were supposed to run this thing, my PTSD issues were spinning me out of control and off the training trail, and it looked like we might not be able to pull it all off.

My turning point to hope, was around April 20th, when I received a text message from my friend Tori saying, "Holy cow! Someone just gave you $1000!" This was at a point when we hadn't even raised that much as entire team. Roger Bock and the Marine Corps Family Support Community here in Ohio, sparked me back into believing that we could actually make a difference with this event. Leave it to an old Jarhead to send some rounds down range.

Things looked up, but we still seemed as if we were on shaky ground. The first weekend of May I pulled my groin in Pittsburgh, running my worst marathon ever, making my involvement uncertain. Then Huffman had concerns about his unborn baby, we hadn't heard much from Pittsburgh Marines, and the park service was pissing around with our permit for Iwo Jima. We had so many things falling into place, but huge obstacles following them up like clock work.

Mid-may... only a few weeks from rolling out of Richmond, we weren't sure what was in store...

We were still painfully short of our $5000 fundraising goal, only one newspaper (The Marine Corps Times, thanks to LtCol Douglas and Gina Cavalaro) had picked us up, only one politician (VA Congressman Eric Cantor) had shown any definitive interest, and the park service was STILL giving Huffman the run around. We had the route, the runners, and the support crew in place... but we uncertain if we would have the cash, the attention, and the permission to go forward as planned.

Everyone involved at this point, was committed to seeing it through, hell or high water... and we came to the conclusion that no matter what happened, this was more about honoring the Marines and Corpsman we lost... and nothing could stop that, even if everything else went down in flames.

Once we came to that epiphany, a weight came off of our backs, and then something sort of miraculous happened.

Donations started POURING in... we hit our goal, and then the pace quickened even more, with money coming in almost everyday, and sometimes it seemed as if it was every hour. Our Facebook group exploded with new life. With pressure from Eric Cantor's office, that pesky park service lady caved in and gave us the needed permission for landing. Runners reaffirmed their commitment to doing this thing with us, and every nagging detail seemed to vanish into an annoying memory.

Days before the run, we changed format, this was about making a successful event to honor our brothers, so we didn't leave it on our shoulders to run the full 100... we would instead run a strict relay, preventing any chance of falling short of DC.

The night before the run for our kickoff party, we knew we had already succeeded in what we had set out to do. It was like a family reunion, the best memorial service you have ever attended, and just straight fun all rolled into one. I, at times, couldn't help but smile thinking this was exactly how God intended it to turn out.

The run itself was amazing. Smoother than we could have ever counted on, everyone had done their part and more. People I had never met, became a part of something I will never forget. New and old mixed together for one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of.

We always had at least two people running, holding the American and Marine Corps flags high in the air, over 20 people all relying on each other for the same purpose in honoring 48 of my brothers who laid down their lives for all of us.

When we rolled into Iwo Jima, all together, running in formation, calling cadence, I didn't think that I could be any more proud of the people I was with... until about 15 minutes later.

We presented the flags we had carried the entire 106 miles to Amy and Larry... knowing that this was more special to them than it ever could be to the rest of us. A wife and a father, without the two men they loved, backing us up from the very beginning and right up to the end, tears in their eyes, accepting all that we could give them, the banners that represent everything that their loved ones were willing to give up their lives for.

No Marine has ever died in vain, no matter what war or how unpopular it was. They died for us, and I could never see it so clearly as I did at 5:30 AM on the eve of Memorial Day in Washington DC.