WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — As more than 13,000 runners descended upon Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for the 22nd Air Force Marathon weekend, nearly 2,000 deployed Airmen in Qatar, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Southwest Asia marked the 10th running of the marathon at deployed locations.
“To be able to do a marathon specifically for the service you are serving in, while you are away from home serving our great country, is both an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Gralewski, 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron.
Like runners anywhere, deployed participants decided to run for myriad reasons — some were purely athletic, while others were deeply personal.
Staff Sgt. Rick Zortman, 379th Expeditionary Communications Squadron, lost his 3-year-old son to brain cancer in 2009 and found meaning in spelling out his son’s name using the GPS track in his running app. From the moment he ran out the name “Armstrong,” he had not only found a way to cope with his own loss, but a way to inspire others battling cancer.
“My running has taken me to different places and the reasons why I run are so much different than most people,” said Zortman. “I have been sketching names, mostly of children that have fought cancer, and in just over one year, I have ran over 500 names.”
Zortman’s action created such a movement that his story was recently featured on ESPN. While he wasn’t able to spell out a name with the Air Force Marathon route, he still took great pride in participating.
“With any race I run, I get the sense of accomplishment,” Zortman said. “With this race, it means more because it is the branch of service that I have been with for 20 years and this will be my first Air Force race!”
Deployed Airmen weren’t the only ones running the Air Force Marathon. Runners from sister services not only participated but used the event to build resilience and relationships.
“In 2010, I was wounded in Afghanistan. Doctors said I would most likely not run again. I lost my way with PTSD and alcohol,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Benjamin Van Buren, 824th Quartermaster Company Riggers. “So, I worked hard day after day. I have since found a best friend and she and I are on a fitness journey together. We planned on running any race we can find together. So, while I am running this race here, she will be running it back home.”
No matter where they ran or why, the Air Force Marathon is an event that can join all that participate, according to Air Force Marathon Race Director Brandon Hough.
“The Air Force Marathon was born out of a tradition of celebrating the birthday of the U.S. Air Force on her 50th year,” Hough said. “Taking part in such a storied event is a proud tradition and connects the tens of thousands of military and civilians alike who have taken part in this annual celebration of our rich history.”
The Air Force Marathon is scheduled to be available at select deployed locations again next year, Hough said. Go to www.usafmarathon.com for more information.