Carry the Load memorial, causes, inspiration, ultra

‘Carry the Load’ a 50-mile weighted *wog

Day one kickoff of the Carry the Load walk
Day one kickoff of the Carry the Load walk

This Memorial Day — Sunday through Monday — I participated in the Carry the Load event, an overnight walk in support of men and women who have made great sacrifices for community and country.

(A version of this post also was published on Advocatemag.com Monday, May 28.) *Wog, if you didn’t know, is a walk/jog or a jog that is the same pace as a walk.

The 'Vietnam' couple at the top of flag hill
The ‘Vietnam’ couple at the top of flag hill

A couple of Navy SEALS from Dallas started Carry the Load three years ago. The event, which lasts from afternoon Sunday through noon Memorial Day, began as symbolic effort — a 20-plus hour walk while carrying a weighted pack — to show solidarity with and gratitude for military members and veterans, police, firefighters and their families who have sacrificed lives, body parts, years, etcetera in order to save lives and serve country.

Stephen Holley, a LHHS grad and co-founder of Carry the Load, flanked by LH Exchange Club members Jon Alspaw, Justin Bono, addressed the Exchange Club a few weeks ago about Carry the Load.
Stephen Holley, co-founder of Carry the Load, flanked by Lake Highlands Exchange Club members Jon Alspaw, Justin Bono, addressed the philanthropic club a few weeks ago about Carry the Load.

The inaugural 2011 walk took place at White Rock Lake, in conjunction with the White Rock Lake Centennial celebrations, and was attended by maybe a hundred people. Attendees could choose to walk any distance during any portion of the 20 hours, or spend the whole 20 hours out there. They may carry a heavy pack or a tiny flag — whatever they wish. Participants this year were encouraged (and rewarded with parking passes, camping access, etc.) for raising $200 or more, but anyone could register for free.

The Young Marines group treks the Katy Trail
The Young Marines group treks the Katy Trail

By its second year, the event had gained popularity, moved to Reverchon Park and the Katy Trail and secured more money for various worthy organizations.

This year, I contemplated participating, because I have several family members who are military vets, cops and firefighters.

After interviewing, for a story, Mark Barnett of Lake Highlands CrossFit who was putting a White Rock area team together, I became even more interested. But I had recently suffered a running injury and wasn’t confident about walking a long distance.

Then, my grandfather Tom Hughes, a WWII veteran — who served with the elite Carlson’s Raiders, who came so close to death on Guadalcanal that he was dropped onto a pile of dead bodies, and who received the Purple Heart Award — died, a few weeks ago, at age 89.

Remembrance wall at Reverchon park, courtesy Facebook/Carrytheload
Remembrance wall at Reverchon park, courtesy Facebook/Carrytheload

The next week, we held a military internment at the National Cemetery and I saw how much the ceremony with the color guard, gun salute and bugle-rendition of Taps meant to my pops — a Vietnam veteran — so I decided I needed to Carry the Load this year. The gesture, I felt, would mean a lot to my dad my family.

I signed up a week before the event and raised $401 dollars from friends (my running buddies, of course) and relatives. I promised on my ‘fundraising page’ that I would traverse a mile for every ten dollars raised. That meant I had to walk 40 miles (on an injured foot and no training in more than a month). I was not prepared for that. But I would do my best.

When I arrived at Reverchon Park in Turtle Creek Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t believe the crowd. There were thousands of people here: Soldiers dressed in full long-sleeved fatigues and combat boots carrying huge backpacks (it was 90 degrees), firefighters carrying massive hoses and heavy gear, people with obvious injuries from IEDs and fire (one man walked hours painfully slowly on crutches), parents with children, a sweet-but-tough couple with matching “Vietnam Vet”/”Vietnam Wife” T-shirts (they covered the first seven-mile loop while stopping for cigarette break or two) — a vast array of people came, and it was beyond the sort of attendance this event has seen in years past.  Funds raised this year totaled $1,073, 390. Continue reading