Marathon brings 10,000 stories of dedication and love

  • Published
  • By Derek Kaufman
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
In the running world, people naturally want to know about the winners. Who were they? How fast did they run? 

And so it was with this year's U.S. Air Force Marathon, when a record 9,969 athletes turned out to race Sept. 18 and 19. The events included 5K, 10K, marathon and half marathon races over courses tracing this historic base where Wilbur and Orville Wright once perfected the airplane and the Air Force's newest weapon systems are now conceived and managed. 

Each one of those athletes came to run, walk, or propel a racing wheelchair, driven by their own desire to compete, challenge themselves, or just experience something truly special in the midst of a sea of humanity. They included elite athletes, Airmen, other joint and partner nation service members, and many people with no particular connection to the military who just wanted to run. Others were driven simply to prove they could in the face of incredible adversity or personal tragedy. Cheering them all on was a legion of more than 2,000 volunteers. 

Here are just few of their stories: 

Running in only his fourth full marathon, Dave Johnston of Xenia, Ohio won the overall men's marathon with an unofficial time of 2:30:42. The 35 year old is a special education teacher at Yellow Springs High School, from where he also graduated. Love of family and friends helped him fight Hodgkin's Disease into remission some 12 years ago. His wife Christina ran in the half marathon. 

"It's just amazing," Johnston said. "The last four months have been all about this race." 

He dedicated his race win to his neighbors, who supported him despite the loss of their daughter earlier this year, and to his dad, Tom, now recovering at home after surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. 

Second Lt. Kate Papenberg won the full marathon in the women's division with a time of 3:08:55. She is just starting to embark on her career as an Air Force maintenance officer, keeping F-15E Strike Eagles flying at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
"It started off wonderful. It was very cold and nice, but by the end...oh, I was hurting," Papenberg said. She added allowing her mind's eye to wander to places where she enjoys running and imagining herself listening to classic rock made the 26.2 miles pass by a little easier. 

"I just try to take myself away from the pain and just enjoy the scenery as much I can," Papenberg said. "I was definitely listening to the Beatles in my mind. I'm an old school fan and I love 'Let it Be' and 'A Hard Days Night.'" 

Lieutenant Papenberg will deploy to Afghanistan early in 2010. 

Air Force 1st Lt. Caroline White, 24, an elite athlete originally from Tacoma Washington, won the women's half marathon with a time of 1:22:17. White hopes to qualify at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials by running 2:46:00 or better at the Twin Cities Marathon Oct. 4, 2009 in Minnesota. She called the Air Force Marathon course and its crowd of cheering spectators "fantastic." 

"It starts out a little bit uphill, so it makes you settle in and make your pace good. But then it just flattens out and you can really hone in on the pace that you want to run," White said. 

Brent Martin from Gambier, Ohio won the men's half marathon with a time of 1:08:42 . 

"I'm getting ready for the Chicago marathon," Martin, who is 24, said. "I wanted a tune up before I run there in the middle of October, so I decided to come here and get in a great race." 

Overcoming adversity and personal tragedy 

A serious auto accident when he was eight years old left Kory Kennedy, 19, with a traumatic brain injury and legally blind. But that didn't prevent him from winning the U.S. Air Force Marathon 5K race - run in partnership with Wright State University on the campus grounds - with a time of 16:50. The 19-year-old Kokomo, Ind. native said he's motivated to continue racing and to encourage other visually impaired athletes. He added he hopes to run next year in the half-marathon. 

Another 5K runner was 11-year-old Montanna Robinson of Fairborn, Ohio. Asthma didn't stop him from placing second among runners age 14 and under, and 31s among all 1,210 finishers. He clocked in with a chip time of 21:33. 

When asked what inspired him to participate in the race, Robinson declared without hesitation, "I like to run." 

In 1990, Holly Koester, of Cleveland, was an Army ordnance specialist at Redstone Arsenal when a motor accident on post took away the use of her legs. Now 49, she is a wheelchair racer who has participated in 12 of 13 Air Force Marathons. She skipped the Air Force Marathon only one year to race in Hawaii. With that event she has completed a marathon in each of the 50 United States. She's on the hunt for other female chair racers. 

"We need some more women out here," Koester said. "They can do it. All they gotta' do is get in the chair, get out there and have some fun." 

After the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew trees down throughout southwest Ohio in September 2008, off-duty Kettering firefighter John Moore was helping a friend in Springboro remove a fallen branch when it struck him in the head, injuring his spine. The accident left Moore, 26, paralyzed from the waist down. During his recovery, a doctor presented Moore with an Air Force Marathon medal, challenging him to run in 2009. 

Sure enough, a year later, Moore finished his first marathon piloting a hand cycle, averaging a pace of just over 5 minutes per mile. His wife Meredyth ran the half marathon in 2:25:49.
"I actually passed her during the race where the two courses merge," Moore said. "We ran together for a few minutes. It was a great feeling." 

On Sept. 19, 1996 Juan Alvarez, was a Navy Lt. flying an MH-53 during a Special operations counter-narcotics mission over central America when his helicopter crashed. He lost his left leg. Thirteen years later he finished the 13th annual U.S. Air Force Marathon, wearing a prosthesis, and finishing in 6:48:17. 

Now an Air Force Col. and the U.S. air attaché to Bolivia, Alvarez dedicated the race to 22 fallen heroes who were either under his charge, friends, or loved ones of his close connections. 

Army Special Forces Capt. Ivan Castro was blinded by a mortar in Iraq in 2006, but ran the half-marathon alongside Jim Crist, captain of the Air Force marathon pace team. During the race, the two were tethered with each holding a part of shoestring while Crist called out obstacles. 

"I couldn't have done this without the support of my wife (Evelyn), (guide) Jim, my command who has allowed me to continue to serve, and this great nation who supports me," Castro said.
The back of Castro's shirt states "I will never accept defeat." 

A year and a half ago Master Sgt. Mike Sanders, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. After radical neck surgery to remove a tumor, numerous rounds of radiation and chemo therapy, he lost 40 pounds. Now an administrator with the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill, he finished the half marathon at 1:39:42. 

"Even though they got my neck muscle, I'm still maxing my [Air Force] PT test, by God's grace," Sanders said with a big smile.
Sanders said he was inspired by some lieutenants who ran the marathon on Saturday that he once mentored while assigned as an enlisted ROTC instructor for cadets attending the University of Portland. 

"One of them took on the Wingman concept, sacrificed his race and actually ran with me," Sanders said. "Lieutenant Evan McNichols today shared a memory with me that I will have forever." 

Sanders crossed the finish line matching strides with 2nd Lt. McNichols, an engineer with the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patt.

Love and memory carries on runner's family 

Perhaps no story is more compelling than that of Chief Master Sgt. Brian Hale and his wife Michelle of Beavercreek, Ohio. Michelle was a reservist who spent eight years active duty, and a civilian executive support specialist for headquarters Air Force Materiel Command. Brian is a graduate student attending the Air Force Institute of Technology. 

While training together during an early morning run August 24, not far from her home, Michelle was hit by an SUV. She died that day with Brian holding her hand.
On Sept. 19, Brian Hale finished the half-marathon Michelle had intended to run. He wore Michelle's race bib, number 4193. 

"Michelle was with me the whole time," Hale said. "I didn't know you could run and cry at the same time, but you can." 

The Hales' teenage daughter Breanna held up a poster she had made with the words "Run Daddy Run...I Love You." It had a photos of Michelle and Brian, along with a hand drawn tombstone inscribed "Mommy -- August 24, 2009." 

At the finish line Brian Hale was greeted by daughter's Jessica and Breanna, Michelle's father John Palmer, and Jessica's 5-month-old baby, Logan. 

The family and many watching nearby were overcome with emotion as Lt. Gen. Tom Owen, Aeronautical Systems Center commander, gently placed Michelle's U.S. Air Force Marathon medal over her grandson Logan's head. 

"The whole community and Air Force family just comes together after tragedy like this and has helped us immensely," Hale said. "I'd like to thank them and the Wright-Patt family for helping our family so very much." 

Many senior Air Force leaders without physical challenges experienced the elation of crossing the finish line, among them Gen. Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, who finished the half marathon alongside his son, Daniel. After finishing the half marathon himself, Chief Master Sgt. Bill Gurney, AFMC's command chief, reflected on the amazing accomplishments of those who - despite amazing odds - continue to challenge themselves and persevere. 

"I'll tell you what. It's a total inspiration and it makes me feel unworthy of serving along side of them," Gurney said.