Sunday, October 25, 2009

Marine Corps Marathon: 2 hours away

The temp is right around 50 degrees and I hear the wind whipping outside my window across a dark Arlington skyline. Yet in just over two hours, the gun will sound and some 28,000 people will charge off in their own mission of commitment, fatigue, challenge, exhaustion and accomplishment. The Marine Corps Marathon is upon us.

For me, this will be the 9th marathon in this 10-race campaign. It has been a long journey and with the completion of this race, we'll be one step closer to our goal. I've travelled across the country trying to spread the message of hope and support for our wounded servicemen returning home from a tour abroad. I have done television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet and podcasts. 

I have run eight marathons in eight states across four time zones over ten months.  

I have met soldiers with the stone-faced resolution that could only come from a 18-year old boy that is about to be shipped off to war and I have seen the unbounded joy, and tears of happiness that come from men and women as they return from abroad to the loving embrace of friends, family, spouses and loved-ones. 

As I type this, every inch of my body is sore and tired. My eyes are watering because I have put so much icy hot on my quads, hams, knees and hips. I'm sitting with an ice pack on my left knee and a can of 180 Energy Drink at my side. This has been a campaign of advocacy, yet this last week has been rather introspective leading up to my hometown race.

The troops in service, the monuments to those who have fallen, the colors and the presence of those who stand watch over us and our liberty and freedom as we sleep at night. They're all here on display during the Marine Corps Marathon. 

My head was clouded and my heart was full yesterday morning, so I went and sat down for a talk with my long-time confidant, my father. As you drive across the cobblestone entry way and make a left through the iron gates to Arlington National Cemetery, you are overcome with a sense of reverence, peace and patriotism. Each of the marble headstones is arranged symmetrically so that no matter what direction you look, they form perfectly straight lines. Among the soldiers, there are no unique or ornate headstones. Each is a marble template with name, DOB, DOD, service recognition medals, wars fought and religious affiliation. Officers are buried next to the Enlisted. Catholics next to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Protestants. Black next to white. Young next to old. It is the epitome of the military. Some color, same flag, same mission, same commitment.

My father, was laid to rest on top of a hill, which overlooks the western side of the Pentagon. Ironically, the very side where in 2001, terrorist highjacked a commercial US airliner and drove it into our nation's military headquarters, some three days after my father died following a valiant battle with a brain tumor. 

So there I stood. The wind was blowing. The air was humid. The rain was coming in. 

We had our talk. I spoke my mind. I listened to the blowing wind. I found my peace.

So today, as we wind through the closing miles of the Marine Corps Marathon, we will actually pass between the western side of the Pentagon and the hilltop where my father, and thousands of his fallen brothers will be looking down on us. All of us. It is no coincidence that this comes at mile 25, with barely one mile remaining in an agonizing 26-mile endeavor. 

Courage is not blind. Commitment is not conditional. Service does not come without sacrifice.

To those who have fallen. To those who have returned. I salute you. One mile at a time.

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports