2.4 miles. Like everything in life, that distance is relative. Sometimes in life, we all experience events so powerful that words stand no chance to sufficiently convey the emotions of the moment. Despite this noted disadvantage, the following paragraphs will be my best effort to do just that: tell the story of 2.4 miles, miles 50 to 52.4 of the Captain John Hallett Memorial Ultra-marathon.
At 11:30 pm on July 30, a group of approximately 30 gathered at San Francisco’s National Cemetery. The illuminated American flag flew high above the white tombstones, blowing in the typically strong breeze of the City by the Bay. We gathered and remembered all the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country, but especially the men of 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. They took on the most difficult mission in Afghanistan during “the surge,” the volatile and strategically important Kandahar province. They arrived in the height of fighting season in 2009 and lost 41 soldiers to Taliban ambushes, mortars and IEDs. In a circle, holding American flags, members of the group “wear blue: run to remember” called out the name of every soldier from the unit lost during the 12 month deployment. It was a stark reminder that we were about to run in their honor. Any concerns over running 52 miles were quickly replaced by the realization that we were here and able to run, but these 41 men weren’t.
10 hours later, approaching 28 hours since our last sleep, the end was in sight. We had paralleled the Pacific Ocean, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, covered the Presidio’s hilly terrain, navigated Golden Gate Park and ran through Haight-Ashbury. But it was on a lonesome stretch of city streets, with little fan fare, that our group of runners rallied at mile 24 of the marathon—mile 50 of the John Hallett Memorial.
After being part of our support crew through the night, John’s brother Chris, joined our pack. Running barefoot, he assumed command of the American flag. I turned to Lisa Hallett and before I could say anything, she knew. She knew that running 52.4 miles in honor of her late husband was an amazing tribute—but she knew that we MUST finish strong. She also knew that if she set an aggressive pace over those final few miles, everyone else in the group would follow suit. So that’s where the real story begins.
We tore down that quiet street and headed for the Bay. Braking left, AT&T Park was now in front of us. We were infused with the spirit of John and over 6,000 other Americans who answered our nation’s call to service and gave their lives. If you saw how the group came together in those last 20 minutes, you would know why I am so confident in saying that. Our pace quickened; there were tears, chills, words of encouragement—but just a few. Mostly, there was focus on finishing together and finishing strong. I took Old Glory from Chris about a mile from home and we pushed harder. Waving the American flag, we rounded AT&T Park and headed for the daunting Bay Bridge. Typically packed with traffic, it sat quiet as we passed under it.
Heading into the finisher’s chute, I handed Old Glory to Lisa and Chris grabbed his brother’s American flag from Mr. & Mrs. Hallett. Together, amid the screaming fans and the PA announcer welcoming our group, we charged for the finish line. 10 hours and 3 minutes after we had set out from The National Cemetery, we crossed that arbitrary point in the road and completed our mission. We ran to honor John and the other Americans who have fallen in Iraq & Afghanistan, but we also ran to connect with them. And we ran to re-affirm our commitment to the men and women who have been wounded in these missions—to support their reintegration in the new communities that they live in.
In this spirit, Team RWB is encouraging all Americans—no matter where you’re going to be—to please join us in making a ‘moving tribute’ on Sunday, September 11th. By committing to walk, run, bike, hike, or workout in some other form on this day, we are pledging to carve out time to honor the 2,977 taken from their families and our country on 9/11/01. We are also paying tribute to the servicemen & women who have made the ultimate sacrifice or have been wounded since that day 10 years ago. Where possible, we are encouraging participants to meet at 8:30 am and to hold a moment of silence at 8:46 am, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center was first attacked. And most importantly, we are encouraging all participants to use this time to reflect upon the tremendous sacrifice so many Americans have made in the past decade.
From Alaska to Afghanistan, and everywhere in between, please join us on September 11th and honor those who lost their lives on 9/11—and re-affirm our commitment to support the men, women and families who have sacrificed so much over the past decade. Let’s make this day one of remembrance, camaraderie, patriotism, service, and action….where we reflect and where we look forward to living lives worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf since September 11th, 2001.
It’s Our Turn!
Team RWB, Founder & Director