Earlier in the year, I volunteered at the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon vendor booth at the Tacoma City Marathon expo. I couldn’t help but notice several members of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard ‘Fast Attack’ run group picking up their run packets for the event, along with a smattering of Army personnel from nearby Joint Base Lewis McChord. There were others, obvious due to their manner, their comportment, the way they carried themselves.
After serving 23 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and currently 11-plus years at Naval Hospital Bremerton, one notices these things.
What also was discovered during that time was the representatives, who were coordinating and facilitating the pre-event marketing and showcasing of the upcoming 46th running (and walking) of the Seattle Marathon on Nov. 27, 2016, are also both veterans.
Melissa Valenzuela, one of the event managers, and Houston, Texas native is former U.S. Army and James Heath, a Puget Sound resident is former U.S. Marine Corps.
How cool is that?!
That the three of us, unbeknownst to most, were all there at once truly – the backdrop of diversity, flexibility and commitment to health and fitness that really is a trademark of our nation’s armed forces.
There is also unintentional irony; the 2015 Seattle Marathon Men’s Marathon Winner was Lt. Cmdr. Steven Slaby, assigned to Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, with a time of 2:38:15. The Women’s Half Marathon Winner was Lt. Gina Slaby, logistics support officer with Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound, with a time of 1:20:52. (She also recently ran in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles and even followed that up by competing in the Pam-Am Games in Venezuela).
Come the Sunday after Thanksgiving, amongst the expected 12,000 participating runners for the full and half marathon walking and running events, there will again be those who take off their Cloth of Our Nation and don their running attire.
There will also be those groups made up entirely with military family and friends which are closely affiliated with the service branches. Their ranks are filled with members in honor for a loved one who has served their country, some who have made the ultimate sacrifice in losing their life. One such group is the ‘Wear Blue: Run to Remember’ running community, with the JBLM chapter having approximately 3,337 members. They have members who run, as well as man a volunteer aid station and `line a portion of the route with an ‘in remembrance’ route that participants pass.
It was back in 2009 that I entered my first distance event state-side, the Seattle Marathon. I was immediately hooked. That day I also ran into (no pun intended) Hospital Corpsman Second Class Carlos Aguon and his cousin, Army Ranger Sgt Derek Quintanilla. It was also Aguon’s first foray into an organized run, a vast difference from when he was on deployment to volatile Kunar Province, Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, where a daily patrol could mean covering that much ground (13.1 miles) or more on foot.
I remember NHB’s Command Master Chief Frank Dominguez plowing through the steady drizzle-mizzle, as of course everyone else did, on that late November day a year later in 2010 with a tremendously respectable time half-marathon of 1:45:40. There was also Dr. David Hessert from NHB’s Ophthalmology clinic finishing up with a 1:58:34, and HM2 Andrew Chase at 2:00:26 (recovering from injury) and then-HM2 Jonathon Solonar with a 2:10:26. There was Lt. Cmdr. Gray Dawson of NHB’s Family Medicine who completed the full with a 3:15:50 time.
Perhaps why many military members who invest time in their health and fitness participate in an event like the Seattle Marathon is because in order to take on the challenge of the extended distance, those same intangible elements that are required to run are also requisite when on deployment and handling the multiple overlapping duties and responsibilities that come with wearing the Cloth of Our Nation: determination, dedication, and discipline.
That the Seattle Marathon recognizes military members makes it all the more compelling and a great example of the civic and community awareness to honor those in uniform.
As always, we hope to see soldier, Sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman out there on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. Wearing the Cloth of Our Nation isn’t a requirement, but the intangibles are.