The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
Moving outside and running specifically has become such an important part of who I am now, that it’s getting hard to easily remember a time at which that was not the case. But it really wasn’t that long ago that not only was I not at all outdoorsy, but I didn’t often run, rarely hiked and didn’t do much of anything. A leisurely stroll on a pleasant day sounded nice. I liked to go to the beach and body surf. That’s pretty much it.
Before I started my outdoor challenge as a means of getting more outdoorsy and years before we learned to Alaska, a did pick-up easy road running as an outdoor sport. It wasn’t something I never did as a teen. Once, not long after college, I had worked up to running the colossal feeling five-mile distance.
But this was different. And it all goes back to one simple moments in 2010: joining a group of people and going for a run together as a way to honor and remember military members killed in service. And this week I had a homecoming of sorts for that. I want to tell you about it.
It was May of 2009. My infant son and I dropped my husband off in the parking lot of his military unit on Fort Lewis, Washington State, kissed him goodbye and drove away. A few hours later he left for Afghanistan as part of an early group deploying ahead of the rest of the unit known as the Torch Team. Dave and I went home where I watched a few episodes of What Not to Wear and tried to go about our lives. Dave was 5 weeks old and a little collicky. This was not a low stress environment.
Two months later with the rest of their unit in Afghanistan, the battalion rolled out to FOB Frontnac, and things immediately got real. And by real I mean – really dangerous and really bad. The notifications started rolling in. Four soldiers killed within two weeks. And then about a week later, four more, including our company’s commander, Capt. John Hallett.
And the deaths just kept coming. By the end of November, our battalion alone had about 20 combat deaths. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I gripped that baby so tight and prayed that Luke would come home alive.
And as I did that, I thought about a woman sitting just a few miles from my house, also holding a newborn. Lisa Hallett’s gave birth to her daughter three weeks after John deployed. He never held his daughter.
And I had no idea what to do about that. None. What do you say and do for 20 families – moms, dads, wives, children – who will never see their soldier again? What can you possibly say? The temptation is to say nothing, to fade into the wallpaper in fear of saying and doing the wrong thing, to disappear into your stress entirely hoping beyond hope that you don’t become then and knowing you’re one knock on the door away from that reality.
And then, on Feb. 21 I got an email from one of the unit wives. “I’d like to get a group running or walking to memorialize the husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers 1-17 has lost,” it said. “I’m hoping this is something that continues until the guys come home.”
And so the workout clothes I regularly wore on the gym elliptical and baby Dave in the most decrepit, second hand jogging stroller you’ve ever seen we showed up at the Burger King parking at 2 p.m. on a Saturday to run slowly around the airfield on base. Some wore our husband’s blue unit PT tshirts. I think I walked most of those four miles.
But there it was — something to do. Because joining us at those runs was Lisa and with her some of the other unit widows. And the group grew. Our gatherings had a format — say the names, run the miles, honor the loss through movement and, without really even knowing that it was happening, start to heal.
Now, if you’ve ever wandered your way into a sport or hobby, you know how those goes. At first, you do it a little, maybe as a favor for someone else. And then it grows and you’re it for you. And then suddenly, if you really like it, it becomes part of your identity.
Which is how I’ve found myself on the other side of thousands of miles, most of them outside. Because the more I ran in blue with purpose, the more I saw other people heal from taking those purposeful steps and the more I found myself healing from all the war wounds and trauma that came into my home through that deployment. Luke came home, but none of us walked out of that experience whole. By running together — even as a virtual community hundreds of miles apart — and by saying the names of those who were lost we gave ourselves a way to be inspired to really, fully live.
And honestly, that’s what wear blue: run to remember is about today. It’s about honoring and then living. And the fact of running and that movement outside is an act of taking purposeful, life-affirming steps. Maybe it’s a little cheesy. But I’ve seen it work. I’ve lived it working. And that’s because any time you do something healing with intention, and especially if it’s done outside in the middle of the container of nature, which we know is so good at holding space for all of the big, out of control things we experience, you are going to walk away better than before. And when you do that with others, you spur them to live inspired, too.
You’re going to hear more about wear blue: run to remember and honoring military service here on Humans Outside soon during a special bonus episode I’m producing and publishing here for wear blue as part of a Veterans Day run in a few weeks. And I was reminded of the power of all of this recently as I spent a few days at the Marine Corps Marathon, joining wear blue as a volunteer on the wear blue mile at the event. This mile of the Marine Corps Marathon course is at about the halfway point, or 13 miles, and is lined with posters of fallen troops runners are honoring during their race. Then, after a good half-mile of those posters where runners are silent as they take in that reminder of sacrifice, you hit the blue mile volunteers, holding American flags and cheering the runners on as they move down the course. It’s an incredibly moving and inspiring experience, and I was so honored to be a part of it.
You can see a photo of my experience on the mile on Humans Outside on facebook and instagram. And I want to see your photos of how you’re spending your outside time, too — tag them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.