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

causes, running, Uncategorized

Berry Family 5k supports kids who survived a tragic accident

The story made national headlines last summer: A vacationing Texas family suffered a tragic accident when a driver on a Colorado highway swerved into oncoming traffic and struck their minivan head on.

Parents Joshua and Robin Berry were killed. Children Peter, 9, and Aaron, 8, are paralyzed from the waist down and little Willa, 6, was left with many broken bones. All the survivors obviously were left with a gaping hole in their young lives.

Their story touched many, including a couple of people here in our area — Teel Tishgart and Kyle Stevens — who have organized a fundraising run this month for the Berry children.

Tishgart, a good friend of mine and a founding member of the White Rock Running Co-op says she didn’t know the Berrys personally, but as a mother of three she felt a special connection to the family when she heard the horrifying reports.

“I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this story mirrored my own life.  It was a fluke accident and could have just as easily been any of us. I would hope that anyone and everyone would step up if my children suffered the same horrific situation.”

Tishgart, a Hockaday alum, has been involved in the Dallas running community for a few years now and when she learned Robin and Joshua Berry were runners, she knew she wanted to do something that involved the mutually loved sport.

Stevens, who will serve as the race director, also felt driven to help though he didn’t personally know the Berrys, who are from Houston. Stevens survived a serious car accident as a child and says he feels this is an “opportunity to pay it forward.”

The race is set for Saturday, March 24 in Plano at Granite Park. Registration is open now, here and is $30 for the individual 5k and $25 per person for teams. A $10 1-mile fun run and a kid’s dash is also available.

The organizers say they have been planning for months to put on a one-of-a-kind event.

“We want to give the feeling that each participant has just completed a marathon,” Tishgart says. “Every child will receive a keepsake award just for participating. Every person will be greeted at the finish line with a Powerade and a snack handed to them by the ‘hype crew’ — dozens of high school kids in costume. We will be cheering and supporting every runner who crosses the finish line.”

One hundred percent of registration fees and donations, minus the race cost, will go to the Berry kids. Learn more about the race, volunteering and the charity at berryfamily5k.org.

causes, inspiration, people with true grit, racing, running

Once homeless, now back on their feet

Team members don’t just run the streets. They have lived on them.

At 5:30 on a Wednesday morning at the corner of Corsicana and Park streets Downtown, two figures inside sidewalk sleeping bags snore, and a man in a thick hooded coat leans against The Bridge homeless shelter wall and puffs his cigarette. His gaze follows a few sweatshirt- and athletic-shoe-clad folks as they emerge from the building to join a similarly dressed group in the parking lot.

The bunch, 15 or so altogether, forms a wide circle. After a series of jumping jacks, stretches and a prayer — “God, grant me the serenity …” — they hit the streets.

Though they train during the wee dark hours, the Back on My Feet team, comprising homeless shelter tenants and volunteer runners, is gaining visibility around White Rock Lake.

Back on My Feet member Charles Smith finished the Dallas Running Club half marathon in 2 hours 30 seconds.
Back on My Feet member Charles Smith finished the Dallas Running Club half marathon in 2 hours 30 seconds. / Photo by Miranda Krebbs

They appear in groups — you know them by their crisp white “Back on My Feet” T-shirts — at most Dallas Running Club events, which are held at Winfrey Point or Norbuck Park at Northwest Highway and Buckner.

The organization enjoys a partnership with East Dallas running outfitter Run On!, which donates shoes and gear and drums up volunteer participation.

BOMF’s 6- to 9-month program partners with central Dallas shelters including The Bridge, Dallas LIFE Foundation and Salvation Army to engage homeless populations in running as an avenue to confidence and self-sufficiency.

“Everyone starts with one mile — most have to run-walk that first mile,” says Lea Velez, director of BOMF Dallas, which launched last February.

Lea Velez leads a running group at The Bridge homeless shelter for those working to get back on their feet. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz
Lea Velez leads a running group at The Bridge homeless shelter for those working to get back on their feet. / Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

In October several members raced a 9.2-mile race at White Rock Lake’s The Loop 15k, and some ran the 13.1-mile course at the Dallas Running Club’s November half marathon, which starts in Lake Highlands and winds around the lake and through Lakewood.

“It is amazing to see that type of progress take place. This kind of renews running for me,” says Velez, a university teacher with a background in social work and veteran of 36 marathons and four ironman triathlons. “I know that, personally, when I ran my first marathon, I felt that if I could get through some of the rough patches in the race, I could get through difficult things in other areas of my life.”

As the Wednesday morning runners pick up the pace, member Paula Turner lags behind. “Running’s not really my thing, but I like to come out and walk,” she says. “Lea (Velez) just ran a 26-mile race. If she can do that, I can come out and walk a couple miles.”

A few years ago Turner was living in a tent on the streets of Las Vegas.

“I came from a good family, my mother took me to the theater, we traveled — she raised me right. I had no one to blame for my problems but myself.”

After raising two children, she says, she developed a chemical addiction, which set off the problems that led to homelessness. (According to the 2010 census, about 31 percent of the homeless population reports “substance abuse” as the cause of their homelessness.)

Today, Turner is clean and for almost a year has been living at The Bridge. Her 25-year-old son, who has mental and physical disabilities, also is in The Bridge program.

The three-day-a-week pre-dawn exercise lends discipline and structure to Turner’s life, and she says she feels it is an important component in her overall rehabilitation, which also includes classes at El Centro College.

Group member Ed Fuller, who finishes his practice run out of breath, sweaty and with a smile on his face, says he is mentally stronger, physically healthier and has lost 50 pounds since joining Back on My Feet.

Team Back on M Feet trains before dawn three mornings a week.
Team Back on M Feet trains before dawn three mornings a week. Runners interested in learning more or volunteering with Back on My Feet can attend an upcoming orientation at Run On! Register at dallas.backonmyfeet.org. / Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

“The running hurts, but once the run is over, I feel really proud of what I’ve done. If don’t give up during the races all the times I wanted to give up, you know, why give up now? Keep pushing and by the time it’s over, you’ll feel good about what you did.”

Members who maintain 90 percent attendance during the initial stage of the program advance to the Next Steps phase, during which they are eligible for job and educational training through Back on My Feet.

The three Back on My Feet teams have about 50 members, and 75 percent have moved on to Next Steps. Since the club’s formation less than a year ago, 61 members have run races, 25 have obtained employment, 11 have found housing and 27 have enrolled in job training or academic classes.

Some, such as 47-year-old Gloria Z. — a former gang member and heroin addict who joined Back on My Feet while she was staying at The Bridge — continue with the group even after they have found a home.

“The program turned out to be like a rock for me — gave me strength and helped my self-esteem,” Gloria says.

She ran a four-mile race last summer when the Dallas Running Club made BOMF a race beneficiary at its Bloomin’ 4 Mile. The group members threw a housewarming party when Gloria moved into her first apartment.

“They brought all their warmth and loving care to my house,” Gloria says. “Everyone who runs, they are my angels.”

Learn more at dallas.backonmyfeet.org.

UPDATE: When I ran the Philadelphia, I encountered several BoMF Philly peeps. That one one of the 1st Back on My Feet branches!

*First published by East Dallas and Lake Highlands Advocate media, December 2011 issue.

causes, racing, running

Training for midnight desert run, hills and heat

This is the Extraterrestrial Highway on which I will run a midnight 13.1 in August.

Last week I started preparing more seriously for the August 13 ET Full Moon Marathon. I am tackling the half. I know it will pain me to run just a half when a full and a 51k is also offered, but I want to be fresh and ready for Philly Marathon. So no excessive distances for now. Anyway, the significant incline over first half of the race should provide a solid challenge.

In order to have fun and do well at the ET, I need to find and train on as many hills as I can. Last week I found a route that goes from my house to Flag Pole Hill then back through the rolling White Rock Hills neighborhood before getting back on Audelia. Audelia Road is good because it has some lengthy inclines and descents. Tuesday I ran the 4-mile route, did eight hill repeats on Flag Pole and ran home for an 11-mile, 95-degree run. Made it home just in time for Mavs tipoff!

Saw the Tuesday Night Track peeps, including Vishal Patel and David Renfro from Dallas Running Club, at Flag Pole. They looked slightly less miserable than me, but then the TNT group had a jug of cold Gatorade (had I known it was their hill night, I would have adjusted my timing to workout with them). David is getting married Saturday and then traveling to Europe with his new bride — he mentioned that this might cut in to his training for an upcoming 50 miler. Runners are funny/insane, no? Did Bikram yoga last night and I plan a progression run tonight and a 20 miler Friday night.

Frequent age group winner Joyce Mah and me before the Dallas Running Club Bloomin' 4 Miler.

Tested out summer racing last Saturday at the Bloomin 4 mile, in which I was the second overall female despite running at about a cooler weather half-marathon race pace. So hot. There was a great turnout, despite the heat. More than 600 runners. The race charity this month was the really cool nonprofit group Back on My Feet, which engages the homeless population in running as a means to build self-esteem, confidence and strength. I think I might need to learn more about them.

This weekend, many Dallasites will run the Wounded Warrior Half — here’s hoping it’s a great one.