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Find YOUR Inner Warrior & Honor the Fallen

Erin Nichols
Written By Erin Nichols
On May, 25 2021
5 minute read

Feats of strength and endurance are well-paired with remembering the fallen. Giving yourself a mission in honor of someone else compels you to dig deeper than you think you can dig. To stop selling yourself short and find out what you’re made of, to take another step, do another rep, keep fighting.

When you think of quitting, you think of those who had no choice but to keep going. Keep going, keep fighting, or die. On the back of 2019, Marine Corps Marathon race shirts was a quote from an unknown 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam: “Courage is endurance for one moment more….”

As the wife of a severely injured Marine, who turned to fitness and endurance sports to cope, running the Marine Corps Marathon was a bucket list race.

My husband, Sam, who sustained a life-changing Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) serving in Iraq, wouldn’t be able to travel with me to cheer me on or share in the experience. He’d never been to any of my races. Sam’s injuries were so severe that he required 24hr nursing care and ongoing therapies. He lived in a remarkable rehab home near where we grew up in Northern California. Though never able to attend a race, he was my biggest cheerleader, checking out my race medals and admiring my running apparel… he had a brain injury, but he was still a man. He was stoked to find out that I’d be running the Marine Corps Marathon. What he didn’t know, due to his poor short-term memory, was that I wouldn’t only be running it for him, but for the Navy Corpsman and three Marines killed by the roadside bomb that injured him.

With Sam’s fragile health and frequent hospitalizations, travel was infrequent and a leap of faith, but he wanted me to go. Our previous experience of the DC area was at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where we spent the first seven weeks after his injury. Although Sam wasn’t able to return with me, being back felt special-almost victorious. I was there this time, not as a broken 23-yr-old, but as a strong, 35-yr-old wounded warrior wife. The sightseeing I didn’t get to do in 2007, I would get to do it by foot, and I’d get a medal and a sweatshirt for doing it.

It was both the wettest and the hottest Marine Corps Marathon to date and is fondly remembered as such. Nothing unites runners more than running a marathon in awful conditions. It adds an extra layer of badass.

During the Marine Corps Marathon, I encountered a bonding experience unlike any other. The Blue Mile. Every marathon is 26.2 miles, but only one marathon dedicates a mile to the fallen.

As you hit mile marker 14, the low hum of conversation stops. Only the sound of shoes striking pavement remains. The mood shifts from happily plugging along, one step after another, people engaged in conversation, mind wandering, or privately rocking out to music.

Everyone’s eyes trained on the hundreds of posters lining the course. Each poster has a picture of a fallen troop. Under his or her picture are name and rank, killed in action, location, and age. I immediately had goosebumps all over my rain-drenched body. I slowed my pace, making sure to read every name and look at every face.

Among the quiet, I heard a voice up ahead. A man in his 50s was calling out the names of every fallen troop as he encountered their poster. I sped up to fall in behind him, declaring each name with him. A few others joined in, and we had a small platoon of runners saying each name in chorus. As the posters were coming to an end, the silence gave way to cheering, cowbells clanging, American flags and blue flags waving, and people wearing the same “wear blue to remember” shirt I was wearing. These were Gold Star Families. Families of the fallen enduring a miserable day in the rain to cheer us, runners, on and honor their hero.

I’ve experienced some pretty great moments during endurance events before, but nothing compares to the blue mile. For the next 12 miles, any discomfort I felt and the inevitable thoughts of just wanting it to be over with were quieted by visions of the blue mile and what each fallen troop endured.

There’s a stretch of the course that begins after passing the Jefferson Memorial, where you run over the Potomac River on HWY 395. It was uphill the whole way in my memory, but that’s probably not right. Due to the wide span of the highway, it was the least scenic part of the entire marathon. All I remember is a never-ending expanse of gray cement. I walked more times than I care to remember. There was a guy passed out receiving medical attention, propped up against the cement barrier. Did I mention that this was mile 20? Ever heard of the wall? Yeah. This was it. It was my third marathon, and I did not doubt that I would finish. I was less than a 10k from the finish. The unanswered question was how would I finish?

“Courage is endurance for one moment more…” The shirt! Some guy in front of me was wearing the race shirt. I read the words on his back over and over until I had the burst of mental fortitude I needed. I had under a 10k to go. The faster I got off that dang bridge, the sooner I got to the next section of the course. I powered through, thinking of troops trudging through the jungles of Vietnam, freezing in foxholes in France, and driving endless hours across a sweltering desert, praying to get to their destination alive. I can take another step; run another mile.

After countless arguments in my head, repeating my new mantra, “courage is endurance for one moment more,” two shots of Fireball thanks to some cheerful spectators, and a handful of selfies with young Marines at mile markers, I arrived at Arlington National Cemetery. I crossed the finish line and stood, elated before the Iwo Jima Memorial.

This was for Sam. This was for Hospitalmen Daniel Noble, Cpl James Heath McRae, Cpl Matthew Zindars, and LCpl Robert Lynch. Usually, a marathon is a personal feat of endurance-not only endurance for the day, but of the months of training it took to get you to the starting line and likely the years of running before you dared to register. It’s often a team effort, but ultimately, nobody can do the training for you, and no one but you wears your bib on race day. Running is a solitary sport. The Marine Corps Marathon is different. You, of course, still have to train and show up, putting one foot in front of the other on race day, but the vibe is so unique. There’s a collective sense of “we got this.” We’re doing this together, and it’s bigger than us. There is no quit.

Honor the Fallen 312 banner

CrossFit Hero WODs (workout of the day) are similar. “Murph” is a classic CrossFit Hero WOD. CrossFit creates Hero WODs to honor men and women who have fallen in the line of duty. Murph honors Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005.
Copy of Honor the Fallen 312 banner (1)

This was Murph’s favorite workout, which he called “Body Amor,” hence the weighted vest. Murph is the WOD on Memorial Day in CrossFit gyms across the country, and even many not into CrossFit, like myself, do the workout on Memorial Day to remember Lt. Mike Murphy and the rest of the fallen.

I’ve created a memorial workout for Sam or Sgt. Sam, as he’s known by many, and his fallen brothers of Kilo Battery 3/12. Murph may not be appropriate or accessible to beginners and even some intermediate-level athletes, especially not with a weighted vest. Sgt. Sam’s workout will challenge you, make you dig deep, make you want to quit, but you can do it.

Clear some time, team up with your family and friends, and dedicate your body and efforts to Sgt. Sam, Doc Noble, Cpl. Zindars, Cpl. McCrae, and LCpl. Lynch. Please share pictures and thoughts about your experience in the comments or the Yes.Fit Facebook group. Don’t forget to tag me, so I don’t miss it.

Copy of Honor the Fallen 312 banner (3)

Feel free to break up the three exercises in any manner you choose, followed by the 30-minute hump (Marine term for a hike wearing a pack or carrying other gear). It should be challenging, and you should want to quit. If it feels too easy, add weight to your squats. Some don’t have the option to quit. Dig deep, and discover your warrior within.

Sgt Sam Memorial Workout

 

Do it for Sgt. Sam.
Do it for Doc Noble.
Do it for Cpl McRae.
Do it for Cpl. Zindars.
Do it for LCpl Robert Lynch.
Do it for a fallen warrior in your heart.

Have a safe and blessed Memorial Day.

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