Can two months on the road traveling across the United States of America with Old Glory for Team Red, White, & Blue change a person?
The tremendous honor of leading a project where one single American Flag would be carried on foot from the Pacific Ocean to the White House was bestowed upon me by the founder and chairman of the board of this incredible Veterans’ service organization a couple weeks after my father was laid to rest with a full military service.
The chance to honor my dad’s memory and the legacy of his parents who both served in World War Two and connecting with veterans across the United States of America was perhaps the greatest single honor I was ever given. I had no idea when I landed in California this Relay would also prove to be one of the most challenging periods of my life.
Every day was an adventure. The mission started with early mornings, hot days, and late nights. My body was called upon more than I ever imagined to simply carry Old Glory across California. I withdrew from UTMB with an injury and a week into this Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay I found myself in a tub of ice screaming with sciatic pain. I kept telling myself, it’s only a 5K! Repeat. My teammates were looking to me for motivation so I had to remain strong and just suck up the pain.
Eagle Nation stepped up and folks came to help us move Old Glory across America’s loneliest Highway in Nevada. High desert sunrises dominated the second week as we moved into the majestic Utah landscapes. Wind, hail, rain, and sun exposure made for long days but our RePatriot American Flag continued her journey East. After two weeks of high mileage my body was tired but my mind was sharp and focused on the task at hand.
Folks from around the country came to help us move Old Glory into Colorado. We missed the fires in California by a day and were a day behind the snow storm that blanketed the San Juan Mountains. Teamwork brought us over the Colorado River and up Monarch Pass over the Continental Divide. The run off the Rockies onto the Great Plains was bittersweet and hail, lightening, and high winds continued to make our journey a challenge.
In the heartland of our amazing country people started to show up ready to run and my body was given some time to heal. Somewhere in Kansas after a storm it occurred to me we would finish this project, but the mental and physical effects of a month of incredible stress on my mind and body took their toll.
Logistics proved to be a challenge as we moved east. More runners meant more interaction with awesome folks looking to honor Old Glory and what she meant to them, but it also meant more time on the road each day.
In Missouri I stopped taking care of my body along the Katy Trail, and after we crossed the Mississippi River I was physically sick. Pre-dawn alarms seemed to come earlier ever day, and as the day light shortened the stress of finishing high miles before dark increased. America is where they farm corn but the history along the roads was amazing and the local people so friendly as we crossed into Illinois and Kentucky.
The Land of Lincoln was coined the “home of the penny” in one of my Facebook videos and I was now on a diet of coffee and Day Quill followed by NyQuil and whatever local brewery I could find before bed each night. Kentucky was beautiful as the autumn colors changed before our eyes on the trees. Unbridled spirit came to mind as the horses along the road would try to Run with Old Glory.
Our couple days in Indiana were special to me as my Uncle, a Navy Veteran, came out to join us to retire the colors one afternoon. As we moved up the Ohio River into the Buckeye State the leaves had fallen and children and factory workers no longer lined our route. Snow was falling as Old Glory headed north towards West Virginia. The Great Allegheny Passage was a welcome change to asphalt and vehicular traffic and when we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland the historic C & O canal picked up as we pushed east towards Washington DC.
Many times along this journey I thought of the men and woman who have served to keep us free, but I also thought of the settlers that centuries ago traveled the country west on a very similar route to Old Glory’s path. When we reached our finish I was overcome with pride and joy, but above all an incredible sense of duty and honor had been fulfilled inside of me. When I watched Team RWB’s Executive Director, who I shared a week with in Kansas, carry Old Glory into the White House on Veterans Day it hit me like a ton of bricks. Mission Accomplished! When I woke from my marathon nap I had this sense that I had just dreamed of this beautiful piece of cloth woven with red, white, and blue that I had just lead across the entire United States of America from sea to shinning sea.
Listening to Mr. Woodward introduce Team RWB before the Boss came on stage at the Concert for Valor brought the last decade of my life full circle. I remember meeting Bob back in NY after his injuries and having grown up listening to the music of Springsteen. I felt I was part of something much larger than I had ever imagined 13 months earlier when on the Bear Mountain Bridge headed back to West Point at sunrise after a run in the dark I was asked to lead the Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay.
So, yes, two months on the road traveling with Old Glory across the United States of America for Team Red, White and Blue did change my life in a positive way. The great Americans I met who helped this epic journey have inspired me to continue to follow my dreams. Looking back now, I especially enjoyed the early mornings where I had the honor to describe what Old Glory means to me. I am gracious to the men and women like my grandparents, father, uncle, and cousin whose service allowed me to freely wear “USA” on my vest when I represent this great country in athletic competition abroad. I am tired sure, but I am blessed by the work of veterans of the United States Armed Forces! America!