The Indomitable Momma Stump – Living the Eagle Ethos and Inspiring a Nation
Blog written by: Stephanie “Momma” Stump and Joe Stump
Words in bolded italics were written by Stephanie “Momma” Stump in October of 2015, after the first ever Team RWB GORUCK Camp before she passed. Joe Stump, her son, wrote the non-bolded regular text after the 2016 Team RWB GORUCK Camp. He did not know his mother had written anything before he wrote his.
I am Stephanie Stump a/k/a Momma Stump, I live and work as a Head Start Family Service Worker in Waskom, Texas. I have one son who is 34 years old and he has served in the USMC and one grandson who is 12 years old. I was never athlete in my younger years in fact, I ran my first 5K at the age of 56, did my first of many 12 hour GORUCK Challenges at age 57 and did my first ½ marathon at age 58. I don’t consider myself fast or strong but I am at least being active and I love it. I learned about Team RWB from a GORUCK friend and heard about the flag runs, which I thought was pretty awesome.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the national Team RWB/Goruck Camp in Jacksonville Florida. I was contacted by the local Chapter Captain and he informed me that my mother Stephanie Stump aka “Momma Stump” was to be honored at the event, as she was a very active Eagle and had recently passed away in June. The camp was phenomenal but before I get into my experience there I’d like to give a short background on Momma Stump.
I didn’t realize how vets (and their families) are impacted by service and conflict until my only child was in Iraq with his USMC unit back in 2004. I cried a lot from the unknown and because I hardly ever heard from him, he was always on the move due to being 0331 (machine gunner). I would hear from him every 4-6 weeks if I was lucky in the middle of the night. I remember it was the end of October, first of November of 2004 and he called me – of course I fussed at him for not calling me more often and he kept telling me that he couldn’t due to never bring in one place. I asked where he was and what he was doing and he replied, “I can’t tell you any of that so don’t ask.” I remember him saying “just watch the news mom.” I didn’t know what that meant and it worried me. I did what he said daily and around the 8th of November it was big new, Marines invade Fallujah a/k/a Operation Phantom Fury. The U.S. Military called it “some of the heaviest urban combat Marines and Army infantry soldiers have been involved in since Vietnam.” He does not talk about it, but I will always remember that time in my life and am so blessed he returned from that chapter in his life.
As long as I can remember she was extremely physically active walking, running, bicycling, rucking and would faithfully do one or the other every single morning regardless of the weather, she seemed to have the energy of 3 men. In 2014 she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and as one may imagine she took it rather hard. All the uncomfortable feelings that are associated with that news flooded our lives, but we talked about it,we attended doctor visits, and we met with outside sources gaining all the insight we could to what would be the best plan. She decided to have surgery, do chemotherapy, radiation and fight like hell. And that is what she did-knowing that none of those tasks would be easy. Several months after her diagnosis she was receiving her second chemo treatment and her house burned to the ground. Now she is dealing with all the uncomfortable emotions that come with the reality of instantly becoming homeless as well. She immediately moved in with me and the outpouring of support she received was unbelievable, within hours she had necessities to get by. While staying with me she began to get adjusted and continued her treatment plan. As the treatments became less harsh she became as active as she was before her diagnosis, she was running every morning at 6am, running 5k’s every weekend, traveling to do half marathons. It was during this time she joined Team RWB. She became consumed with the group they were her family and it was really wonderful to see her get enjoyment out of participating in all the various activities the team offered or helped with.
I joined Team RWB the first part 2014 and was starting to get more involved than just flag runs through volunteering for water stops, holiday activities and was asked if I would be willing to start taking photos of our Chapter events when I could. I was excited to be a part of this new organization since I have always been involved in volunteering all my life.
I received a call on July 1, 2014 that changed my life, I had breast cancer. It was devastating, not me I was the one who fought for a cure for family and took care of myself. So in August I had breast surgery, September 9, 2014 I started chemotherapy and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse it did. October 22, 2014 as I was at the cancer center receiving chemo I learned my house had burned to the ground and nothing was left. I was taken from the cancer center to see my home smoldering, nothing was saved, I only had the clothes on my back and my house was not insured. I wanted to give up since I had cancer, I was bald, I was sick and now I was homeless. I moved in with my son who lives in Louisiana which was still in driving distance to work.
In October 2015 she was given the opportunity to attend the national Team RWB/Goruck Camp, it was the highlight of her recent years she came home and talked about how great of a time it was and that she was even more motivated to be active and help others be active. She started doing even more races and events and she must have had 25 Team RWB shirts because that’s all she wore.
I was very fortunate to be invited to attend the first GORUCK/Team RWB Ruck Camp in Jacksonville, FL at GORUCK headquarters. I will admit I did not feel worthy of attending since I know there are so many other Team RWB volunteers who deserved this opportunity more than I, but I have a passion for both Team RWB and GORUCK which I was more active in both prior to my diagnosis. Spending the weekend with the best of the best in both Team RWB & GORUCK and learning so much, I feel rejuvenated. I also feel I can make an impact on helping veterans get involved in some physical type activities, since I know first-hand how it has helped me get through my journey of hell. I got to see some old friends and meet some new ones and feel it was an honor to be involved in this event. Lastly, I was given a Team RWB Challenge Coin during our closing which meant the world to me and had me pretty choked up. Special thanks to those that made it happen for me and those that made it special for me.
Around February 2016 she started to have abdominal pains and she thought it was something that she could just take over the counter medicine for, but it persisted. She eventually went to see the doctors in March and they informed her she now had gastric cancer as well as breast cancer and it had spread throughout her entire body. She wanted to fight like hell, so she did. She stayed well over two month in the hospital taking some of the most aggressive treatment they could give her and she continued to fight. The doctors told her she should try to walk around the hospital so we did, she shuffled up and down every floor dragging her IV pole, the doctors told her to try to eat, she would try everyday knowing it wouldn’t stay down, but she tried. Eventually scans showed that there was nothing more to be done and she came home to be at peace. She was home for 8 days and when doctors had given up and honestly I had too, she continued to fight like hell. I was by her side to the very end and I can honestly say she fought until there was no more fight in her being.
On September 8, 2015 I completed my last chemo treatment (365 days of treatments) and am currently in remission. What Team RWB and my GORUCK community did for me was more than any medication or treatment did for me. Their support gave me strength and they were not giving up on me so I better not give up myself. I am back to running 5 miles every day before work and am proud to say I will be turning 60 in mid-November.
Besides the fact that my mother just would not give up one of the things I took away from this whole experience was that her Chapter Captain James came to visit her every day. I was there every day but this is my mother. This man came everyday to see someone he had no connection with aside from Team RWB. People have busy lives and plenty of things to do; visiting someone in the hospital for well over two months is not a real attractive thing to do. But he did and that speaks volumes about the man and the organization. I would come to find out, there are so many more Eagles just like him. And that is absolutely wonderful to know.
Shortly after her services I planned out her headstone, she wasn’t extravagant so I didn’t feel her memorial should be, the front has her information and a set of running shoes engraved and a small vase with a photo of her before her treatments with her long hair and it says “MOMMA STUMP”. The back is simply an etched picture of her in a Team RWB shirt and a headband smiling from ear to ear, that picture was taken at the 2015 Team RWB/Goruck Camp as she was participating in a team event. I chose that picture because she was so happy, so thrilled to be part of that group and that organization I wanted to immortalize that moment and her spirit forever.
I would come to find out one year after that picture was taken why she was smiling ear to ear and talked about the camp constantly. When I arrived at the camp I didn’t know anyone but I thought if these Eagles are anything like the James this would be a good time. Well I was wrong, it was a great time. The very first exercise was to go around the room and share “Why Do You Wear the Eagle?” My honest initial thoughts were an internal eye roll and oh boy here we go. But as Eagles started to speak I was enthralled. I didn’t even want to speak just listen; some of the group’s stories were just incredible and so impactful. That was just a precursor to an unbelievable weekend of leadership training, more laughs that you can imagine and hearing from some true warriors, both war fighters and civilians. I have done several Goruck events but none of them come close to the experience I was given the opportunity to share with awesome people. When I received my schedule of events for the camp I noticed one of the last things was the presentation of the Momma Stump award. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was but I was extremely honored that there would be a tribute to my mom in the way of an award. So as the ending came near I was excited for the presentation, maybe more so than anything for my mother’s story to be told. As the speaker began, he explained that the award wasn’t necessarily given to the person that was the most athletic or anything of that nature but as the award reads “To the person to exemplifies Momma Stump’s indomitable spirit and drive.” Someone who lives the never give up life and lives it for others. As he is presenting it I’m so very appreciative that this is even happening and I’m very excited for whoever will receive it; and then he calls my name It was simply an honor for the award to exist but to be the recipient of it is something I can’t express, I will forever be thankful for the Team RWB for all they have done to help my mother and I in hard dark times. My mother’s story is not unique, I’m sure everyone knows somebody going through terribly hard times regardless of the details. I hope someone can take something away from our story and make their life better or help make someone else’s life better.