Since joining RWB in November 2011, I’ve run a few 5Ks—always finishing last or close to it, and always feeling pretty bad about it afterward. After a particularly bad 5K in the fall of 2013, I actually cried and vowed to quit trying and to quit RWB. At that moment, Kirk Williams, RWB veteran, crossfitter, and great guy approached me, and in passing offered, “Just remember, you did more this morning than some people will do all day.” Those words stick with me to this day and have carried me more miles than I thought possible.
October 18, 2014, I ran my first half-marathon wearing The Eagle representing Team RWB. Why? I am not inspirational or special in any way. I am a middle-aged mother of four. I have never been athletically talented—even when I was younger and physically fit. When I picture inspirational people, I envision the men and women of Team RWB, who despite physical and psychological injuries are doing amazing things like crossfitting, trail running, ultra-running, and competing in triathlons.
So in what can only be described as a temporary loss of all reason, I decided in May of 2014 to run the Buffalo Creek Half-Marathon as a “gift” for my husband, Jason, for our 20th anniversary. With the backing of our children and with the support and guidance of my chapter captain, Kate Bielak, I embarked on a secret mission—preparing for a half-marathon. Slowly, a few other Eagles became part of my secret—Jeremiah Fountain, U. S. Army veteran, became my virtual training partner as he was training for the same race for his first half-marathon as well; and Sean MacMillen, U. S. Army veteran and chapter captain of Team RWB Lock Haven-Williamsport quickly provided encouragement and moral support from half-way across the state.
Two months away from the race, I e-mailed Kate to tell her I wanted to donate my half-marathon bib to a veteran. Despite her encouragement and rebuttal, I had my mind set. Before I knew it, I was Facebook messaging with Jeremiah who listened to my fears, shared my doubts, and reminded me that, “run, walk, or crawl” we were finishing that race. I knew Kate deployed the troops to rescue me, and I was grateful.
One month from the race, I was running a quarter of a mile with COL (ret.) James Nemec who let me know he had every intention of showing up to that half-marathon to make sure I finished the race, but family commitments conflicted; however, he knew I could do it. To address my concern about being “swept” off the trail for being too slow, I was told to just turn in my bib and tell them, “I’m just another person out for a run.” In running that short distance with “The Colonel,” I became more determined to finish. If The Colonel believed in me, I must be able to do it. For the first time since I started this journey, I believed I could do all 13.1 miles. I knew they wouldn’t be fast, I knew they wouldn’t be pretty, but they were going to be ours—mine and everyone else’s who stood in my corner!
For the first 7 miles, the bike sweepers rode just beyond my peripheral vision, but I could hear their wheels crunching, I could hear their conversations, and I felt like I was keeping them back. Sometimes they’d stop to let me get ahead, but they’d end up riding in the same place. Just as I was ready to tell them to pass me, the one asked if I had a ride back to get my car and would I be OK by myself. When I said I did and I would, they passed me and a HUGE burden was lifted. I was on my own—running for myself, for my support team, for Team Red, White, and Blue.
Suddenly the adventure was all about the personal challenge and the people who helped get me to this place in the woods. There was no doubt I was going to be last and wasn’t going to make the finish time, but for the first time in my life, I didn’t care about being last. I enjoyed every minute of last. I ran because Kirk Williams was in my head; I ran because The Colonel believed I could do it; I ran because Kate taught me it wasn’t about speed; I ran because Jeremiah Fountain believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
When I saw my personal finish line, I cried the rest of the way in. The being last didn’t matter. The getting lost didn’t matter. The finishing 15 minutes later than I anticipated, didn’t matter either. Feeling the love and support of those Eagles was all that mattered. Finishing something so beyond what I ever thought possible would never have happened without the backing of Team RWB—and that’s all that mattered.
The Year of the Eagle I always used to think that my spirit animal was a puppy. Thanks to our nation’s veterans, I now know for certain that it is an eagle.
This past year, I picked my whole life up and moved it to Washington, DC to work for Congress. My college roommates and I all moved to different corners of the country, I left my loving and supportive family in Ohio, and I found myself moving into a house I found, and now love, on Craiglist (my new roommates are lovely and are not murderers, don’t worry). I knew that I was moving far away from some very special people, but I was optimistic that I would make new friends in a new city.
I got lucky. What I found instead was a powerful community of veterans and civilians, meaningful connections with those who have served, and a renewed love for my country.
While I was finishing up my Master’s degree in political science, I became passively disenchanted with these United States and fell out of love with the country I was so fortunate to have grown up in. I felt disenfranchised from my country because I found that I didn’t quite understand it anymore. I questioned our role as a global power, I considered our foreign and domestic policies with way more than a single grain of salt, and I felt intimidated in the presence of those in uniform.
However, while I still consider our policies carefully and philosophize on our global role, as I believe all thoughtful citizens should do, I am no longer intimidated by those who serve our nation. The connections I have made with our veterans through organizations such as Team Red, White, and Blue have renewed my love for America, as I have learned that their actions are selfless, sacrificial, and for nothing but their love of country. It is sometimes hard for me to understand the intensity of that comradery, but this community of veterans invites me to share that value with them, and for that, I am a thankful, reflective, better person.
Alongside tens of thousands of veterans and civilians alike, this year I have completed marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, and fun runs, not to mention the 550+ miles I’ve ran in between. I’ve ran with Anna Runs America and held Old Glory on her last day across the country in the Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay. I have taken on leadership roles within my community as well as followed in the footsteps of those greater and braver than I. Thanks to the influence of our veterans, I am stronger, faster, and more resilient.
But more than that, I have been taught that veterans are the spine of our nation, and that civilians are critical to their reintegration into civilian life. It is vital that these counterparts work hand in hand, whether it is to solve our nation’s most pressing issues or carry our flag across a finish line. Together, veterans and civilians can help the American people fall back in love with their country.
I like to think of 2014 as the year of the eagle. Just as the military pledges to leave no soldier behind on the battlefield, we must leave no veteran behind when they return home. Thank you to the veterans who inspire me every single day, thank you to those who have taken me under their wing, and thank you to those within this community who believe in me, as well as push me to believe in myself. I am better because of you, and I hope to be better for you.
Team Red, White, & Blue, DMV
Outdoor Events Coordinator and DC Geographic Leader
These traits have been ingrained in me from an early age. I have my parents, Holly and Kevin, to thank for instilling the importance of these traits. They taught me how to love, live, and be a good person. My entire family has taught me how to overcome adversity and obstacles. They taught me to be a strong woman and leader, and fight for what I believe in. They showed me in my young age how the Army Values and living with integrity would always ensure success. They love me and support me in whatever I do. Knowing this empowering feeling has enabled me to share it and instill it in others.
I grew up a military brat and embraced a life of moving, traveling, and meeting new faces. I grew up all over the states and Europe. I’ve met many inspirational people along the way. I have always been very active and involved. I played sports from the age of 8 on through college (Soccer will always be my favorite). I was part of many organizations in high school- President of National Honor Society, Valedictorian, Class President, German Club, Captain of my Soccer and Volleyball Teams. I was always hungry for more. In college, I ventured away from the Army life for the first time. I had a lot of fun my freshman year but felt there was a void. Something was missing. Many of my friends were in ROTC and convinced me to join in on some PT sessions with our Battalion Commander. The sense of purpose and camaraderie I saw in this group of individuals hooked me immediately. Could I possibly join the Army and serve as an Officer and….enjoy it? The answer was a resounding YES. Army ROTC became my new platform for inspiration and began teaching me how to lead. I embraced being a member of the team. I excelled in our program and through my biology/Pre-med program. I served as the S3 and Cadet Battalion Commander while in my Senior Year of ROTC and reignited my passion for leading from the front. I stayed fit and found fun in running, hiking, and doing adventure races. In 2009 I commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the United States Army. I have served as a platoon leader in a medical company, an executive officer closing bases in Iraq, and an operations officer in a Medical Center. I am currently a Commander in a Hospital at Fort Benning. This job opened the doors for me to become a full-time Healthcare Administrator for the Army. I will earn my MHA/MBA from Baylor University beginning in Summer of 2015. I also recently became a member of The American College of Healthcare Executives.
I have been in the Army for almost 6 years! It’s hard to believe. My passion and determination to change Army Medicine and our Healthcare System has grown immensely in these 6 years. So has my love for my Brothers and Sisters in arms. I respect our profession and love what we do more than ever before. I work with so many strong, inspiring individuals. I am grateful to work in such a profession that allows such growth and prosperity as individuals and as a team. I am honored to serve Veterans and their families as a healthcare administrator. I have also found a new sport in which to unleash my athleticism- triathlon. The sport of triathlon is an inspiring world of people who push their bodies to the outer limits. I have started doing half Ironmans and really enjoy getting out there and competing. The five qualities I hold near and dear to my heart are present here. My triathlon family is comprised of some of the smartest and amazing people I’ve ever met! They exemplify strength, perseverance, and passion in all that they do.
I found Team RWB through a mentor/friend of mine, MAJ Jonathan Silk. “This would be perfect for you!” He said. And he was right. In a year’s time, we created a Chapter of over 300 people in Fort Benning/Columbus and I volunteered to take on the Social Director title. Our mission? To reach Veterans and connect them with the Community through physical and social activity. The Leaders I have worked with are phenomenal people. Their passion for Veterans is unsurpassed. We all seek the finer adventures in life. We understand that we can never stop improving and we strive to learn, grow, and love more every day. We are people who set goals and challenges for ourselves and we MEET those goals. We gain value in our lives with every Veteran we touch and every friend we make. Our team has grown significantly and we are strong. We all share a remarkable bond and it has truly changed my life for the better. It’s remarkable what a support crew can do for you. Wearing the eagle and running with the flag of our nation is a feeling of peace and pride I cannot describe – I can only show you. My wish is for everyone to experience the camaraderie and patriotism that is Team RWB. The group of red shirts with flags you see running by embodies the traits I emulate every day. A day without inspiration is a day wasted and our Eagles LIVE IT.
Life is and always will be far too beautiful to watch as a spectator. Don’t let it pass you by.
Last weekend Team RWB sponsored 8 Veteran athletes from across the nation, who competed in the Working Wounded Games in Alexandra, VA. The games are a CrossFit styled event designed to level the playing field for adaptive athletes. These team members exemplified the Eagle Ethos of Passion, People, Positivity, Commitment, Camaraderie, and Community. Read their stories below:
Mike Hernandez. “I heard about Team RWB through a friend Nick Caris. He told me they where do amazing things with Vets. At the time I had just came off of a downward spiral of suicidal thoughts, divorce, homeless, obesity, not being able to see my son, and drug and alcohol abuse. I started with completing the Spartan challenge with Blayne and was asked if I wanted to go to a camp, which changed my life. I went to the functional FITTNESS camp in Alabama with Irontribe and met a lot of vets that where once in my shoes. To this day I have lost 70 lbs. and continue to do functional FITTNESS. I have also taken a leadership role as the outreach director of the Tampa chapter. I am also the Firebase ops chief, and I am a fellow with the Mission Continues serving Team RWB. Blayne has been an amazing mentor and friend. He has saved my life mentally and physically.”
Max Conserva. “Military service is not what ultimately brought me to Team RWB, rather it was a little bike and a semi-truck. When I was 8 years-old I was involved in a major truck vs. bicycle accident. Both the truck and I were stopped at the same intersection. The semi-truck, with it’s tall hood, didn’t see the small obstacle as I passed through the crosswalk directly in front. With a seemingly clear path, the truck initiated a right turn on a red light. For a sudden moment the truck and I occupied the same space. The over-sized grill slammed into my left shoulder, throwing me off of my bike. A second moment of contact approached as eighteen trailer tires lumbered forward. In an instant I had hooked my left arm over-top the bumper, pulling myself away from first set of tires, hanging on for life. Fortunately, before to long, some bystanders at the intersection who witnessed the accident ran out in front of the truck to force it to a stop. Finally stopped, with people gathered, the truck was ordered to reverse. The truck rolled back, leaving what remained laying on the asphalt in the center of the lane. With my bike still in my left had, I stood up, then fell back to the pavement. The rest of my life began. The accident had left me with a catastrophic injury to my right leg that has left it forever deformed and unstable. I spend most of my life avoiding most types of physical activity out of fear of failure, embarrassment and disbelief in what could be possible. A few years ago I found Crossfit and it changed my life. I came to San Francisco Crossfit as an individual with a tactically managed disability and came out the other side as, for the first time in my life, an athlete. There is now no activity I won’t try or challenge I won’t attempt. Crossfit was one of the catalysts that pushed me to address all aspects of my disability head-on. Ultimately converging into my current project: www.GoodLeg.org. I was first introduced to Team RWB by Theresa Larson through our joint involvement in Crossfit. She invited me to come down to San Diego to coach for a Team RWB Functional Fitness camp. I jumped at the opportunity and was rewarded with an amazing experience. I relish any chance to coach and train with other adaptive athletes. I see the Working Wounded Games as the ultimate expression of this. Participating will undoubtedly be a personal highlight in a year full of highlights.”
Evan Reichenthal enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2009. Served as an infantryman with 3rd Battalion 9th Marines. Deployed to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. Wounded by an IED in 2011 while conducting combat operations against the Taliban. Suffered right below knee amputation, right elbow fusion at 30 degrees, and severe damage to left leg, nerve damage throughout the three limbs. Spent 16 months at Walter Reed and 32 surgeries all together. He is currently a student at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He joined Team RWB after participating in the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, in May. Evan is now a dedicated Crossfit athlete for Team RWB.
Cogen Nelson Sgt, Ret. USMC currently owns a CrossFit affiliate in Southern California; House of CrossFit in Carlsbad. He spent 8 years in the Marine Corps, where he did two deployments with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Kaneohe Bay, HI to Fallujah in 2008 and Haditha in 2006, respectively. He also served with 4th Force Reconnaissance out of Alameda, CA. During his prior deployments, Sgt Nelson sustained multiple injuries that include a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED explosion, gun shot wound to his left arm, and multiple other physical injuries. After combat deployments and seeking aid through Wounded Warrior Battalion, Sgt Nelson was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. That year prior, he found refuge and recovery via CrossFit; igniting a passion for challenge and overcoming fatigue and injuries that had previously held him back. He currently trains members and athletes in Carlsbad at his affiliate. He prides himself on being an ambassador to other veterans who suffer from PTSD and who have overcome physical injuries. As a new member of Team RBW, he looks forward to spending the next few years, working on his personal goals while giving back to the community and spending time with other veterans.
Ashley Wallace. “Being part of Team RWB is a goal that I’ve had for a long time now. Now that getting out of the military is in my near future, it’s important to me to be able to share a bond with other veterans, as well as stay healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. Team RWB helps to facilitate those very concepts and so much more. Team RWB also connects me to my community locally and nationally and keeps me actively involved in ongoing events, giving me opportunities to carry on my leadership skills that I learned while on active duty as well as be an ambassador for the military and community alike. I get to stay active, meet new people, and have a lot of fun with a lot of really incredible people…that’s not something you find everyday!”
Alec Zirkenbach ”I was commissioned in the Navy after graduating and completing ROTC at Virginia Tech. During my 10 year naval career I served as an Engineering Division Officer, Navigator, Navy Gun Liaison Officer, Flag Speech Writer, Plans Officer and Maritime Security Boarding Trainer. I suffered a severe leg break and subsequently almost lost my leg due to the extreme circumstance. After multiple surgeries and rehab, I was lucky to still have my leg, albeit with permanent limitations. I feel grateful that I’m as able bodied as I am considering my injuries and I’ve made it my new career focus to serve those who were (or will be) injured as bad or worse than I was. After retiring from the Navy, I opened Fathom CrossFit and now coach and operate the business. With the aid of Dr. Theresa Larson, DPT, and other medical and training professionals, Fathom is the premier gym for adaptive athletic training. My goal is to make post-rehab fitness attainable for all adaptive athletes and wounded warriors. This is where I learned of Team RWB and the amazing things they do for us warriors. Fathom hosted a two-day Functional Fitness Camp for any Team RWB members and will do so as long as there are athletes interested. I began CrossFit as a way to challenge my fitness level and I immediately realized I had been missing out (that aha moment). I trained for just a couple months before deploying and subsequently suffering a freak injury that landed me in the hospital for a month and had over ten surgeries to try and save my leg. Rehab and recovery was a slow and demoralizing process…until I rejoined a CrossFit gym. I can honestly say that CrossFit, and more specifically, the amazing people in this community saved me from a long road of physical and mental despair. Today I’m stronger and healthier (albeit disabled) than I have ever been, and I never would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the coaches and friends I’ve met through CrossFit. I train, coach, and love CrossFit because it gave me a second chance at a healthy and happy life.”
Alex Delecampa. “Retired navy, left active duty in January of 2014. Prior to leaving active duty I spent my time going through some physical as well as mental traumas due to my injuries. During that time the only thing I could think about was getting back to my former self. Team RWB has given me the avenue to do that last year I was apart of there working wounded games and it felt amazing being back in my element competing and being apart of something. This year I’m hoping to go back the wwg and hopefully be apart of some other activities with my local chapter. Team Rwb is a neccessity as far as I’m concerned to those who want to be surrounded by those like minded.”
Great job team!
I am a 49 year old disabled veteran and have been since 1990. My disability is like many others, I have two crushed disk in my lower back that occurred on my tour in Bosnia. I’ve worked hard on keeping my life heading forward with many highs and lows since leaving the service. I lived in Germany for 18 years and returned to the states in 2008. While in Germany I gained about 50 lbs right off the bat after leaving the service. My motivations were drinking German beer and eating all that good German food. I couldn’t get motivated to stay healthy. I was over 240 in no time at all after being 195 lbs most of my military career. About two years ago I started running again and my back is what would always stop me. But I keep going and started to lose weight with help from my amazing wife.
After a year of running on and off, my wife joined me; that’s what really motivated me to get moving. Two years later I am 210lbs and just competed in my second triathlon in two months.
My interests are now running, biking, swimming and meeting new athletes. I am currently a member of the Chattahoochee Triathlon Club who have been a great family of athletes that have cheered me on and motivated me and Team RWB COLUMBUS/FT BENNING which has inspired me by their dedication to take care of local veteran servicemen and women.
Most of my CTC family members are also members of Team RWB. I work out 6 days a week, catching each tri sport twice a week and will run my first Marathon in November and do my first 1/2 Ironman in April 2015.
These are my goals and motivation now. Thanks again!