Michael Blooms participation in last years inaugural Race for a Soldier half marathon affected a lot of people. The sergeant first class and reconnaissance platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment on Joint Base Lewis-McChord ran the Gig Harbor race in full military gear, complete with a 65-pound rucksack decorated with two American flags.
Among those inspired by the Soldier was race founder Leslie Mayne. She used an image of Bloom from that day last October for this years Race for a Soldier posters, advertising the run that assists Soldiers affected by post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
When the second annual Race for a Soldier takes place Sunday, Bloom wont be in Gig Harbor to run it. Currently deployed to Afghanistan, the NCO organized a shadow run to take place overseas on race day.
I thought how much I wish I could be back there to run this race in the memory of our fallen and in support of our wounded, Bloom said in an email. I just decided that since I couldnt get myself back to the race, maybe I could bring the race here.
Nearly 30 Soldiers will shadow run in Afghanistan while thousands will gather in Gig Harbor to support the runners local and afar. Mayne sent the deployed Soldiers their own race bibs, participant T-shirts and race dog tags.
This will be the closest thing to being back home for many of us, and it allows us to run for our friends we have lost or that have been wounded and sent home, Bloom said. We are doing this for them and for every Soldier who has made that sacrifice.
The race is a product of a tragedy that Mayne suffered in 2009 when she lost her son, Pfc. Kyle Farr. The Soldier suffered from PTSD and TBI after he returned home from a deployment to Iraq in 2006. The day after his release from the Perry Point Veterans Affairs Hospital in Maryland, Farr overmedicated himself and was found dead in a Baltimore hotel room.
Mayne and a strong core of volunteers helped her organize last years half-marathon that saw more than 3,000 people fill the streets while 1,400 runners participated. Mayne so badly wanted to talk to her son, to ask him if he saw what she saw.
My heart was busting (with) what we as a group did, Mayne said. I was so full of gratitude. I was just bursting with pride.
The inaugural run netted about $63,000 that went to organizations such as the USO Puget Sound Area, All American Dogs, Rainier Therapeutic Riding and Heartbeat Serving Wounded Warriors.
There are two minor changes to this years race. The date was moved up a month for a better chance at warmer weather and there was a slight tweak to the course. But the race has the same mission, to benefit organizations that support Soldiers well-being.
Sometimes the bottom line cant be measured just in money alone. Its the intangible things that happen because of what youre doing, Mayne said. We wanted to raise awareness for programs that are really helping Soldiers with PTSD.
Sponsors from last year returned this year have given in a bigger way. Hundreds of volunteers, including Soldiers from JBLMs 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade are assisting with the race weekend, which begins this morning with a sold out prayer breakfast at the Milgard Hope Center in Gig Harbor. The race will start at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Gig Harbor YMCA. A kids fun run begins at 8:15 a.m. and the two-mile run starts at 8:30 a.m.
Military participation in the race is up more than 300 percent from last year, Mayne said, and numerous people have sponsored Soldiers who want to run.
Mayne continues to work toward starting up her nonprofit organization, Permission to Start Dreaming, and talk has started of spreading Race for a Soldier outside of the area.
Think of the impact we can make, Mayne said. Weve made just a small dent in this area, but its a small dent that can grow.