By Thara Babineau
It was around 3:00AM on May 6, 2017. Steady rain fell upon me as I ran through a darkness so complete that the tiny, shaking light from my headlamp barely put a dent it in. My rucksack dug into my aching shoulders, its 20lb weight now in competition with that of my shoes, engorged with a day’s worth of torrential rain. With every step forward, I was made aware of all of the muscles in my body. Each straining, each begging me, “no more.” I willed them to keep propelling me further into the night. Every so often, I looked to my phone, where an illuminated map of my running route reminded me that I was getting through it and that I was almost to the end. I was in the middle of my 7th leg of the Ruck4HIT relay race. Through the day and night for the previous 27 hours, with my weighted ruck on, I had run 6 legs similar to that, each 2.75-4 miles long, to total nearly 20 miles so far. It was during that 7th leg, that for the first time, I had the slightest semblance of the sort of strength and sacrifice our veterans know all too well. It was in that moment that I realized that I was no longer operating on adrenaline and ignorance. I thought of the 3 final legs I had yet to run and I felt depleted. I didn’t think I could finish. Tears streamed down my face, only to be made indiscernible by the unsympathetic rain. I just wanted it to be over. Then, like an answered prayer, the words of Ruck4HIT organizer, Nicole Spencer, resounded in my head. Just the day before, as I gathered at the race starting point with over 100 other runners, Nicole addressed us with emotion so raw and real that I could physically feel her gratitude, hope, love, and earnest intention in every word she spoke.
“When it gets hard,” she had said before she paused to fight back tears, “remember why you are running; remember who you are running for.”
Ironically, recalling Nicole’s words caused me to stop mid-stride. I closed my eyes, waiting for her words to take effect, to inspire me to continue on, but all I could think about was how cold, wet, tired, and alone I was. I just wanted to go home. I bent over, put my hands on my knees and hung my head. I took a deep breath and I allowed Nicole’s words to make their way from my head to my heart. I reflected on the struggles our veterans have been through, and what many of them must still go through. I became filled with gratitude, and I lifted my head. I thought about the duties our military service members are called to fulfill, day in and day out. I felt indebted; I wanted to express my appreciation, so I opened my eyes. I thought about those soldiers that were overseas at that very moment, with their lives in real danger, having to sacrifice a great deal more than I. I felt my gratitude transform into fortitude, and I stood up straight. I had been reminded. I remembered why I was running. I remembered who I was running for. And I ran.
Ruck4HIT relay race raises awareness and funds for Heroes In Transition, Inc. (HIT) and its Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Programs here on Cape Cod. HIT is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to provide assistance to veterans in need, with a focus on four key areas: home modifications for disabled veterans, Transitional Support Group Therapy, financial support for service families, and assistance dogs for veterans.
The May 2017 Ruck4HIT relay race that I participated in marked the second year of the annually held event. My relay team, Team Shamruck, consisted of myself and 6 other runners, as well as 2 drivers. Between each leg, we were confined to a van (except for bathroom and food stops) to recuperate and attempt to rest. The race began in Bourne and traveled through all 15 towns on Cape Cod, ending in Mashpee. We also were required to partake in 3 team challenges while wearing our rucks during the course of the relay: walking to the top of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, running .5 mile on the beach, and carrying a life-sized dummy in a weighed down dingy around Chatham Lighthouse. All participating runners wore 20-30 lb. weighted rucksacks as symbol of the physical and emotional burdens endured by our military service members, both past and present, and to honor their strength and sacrifice
Ruck4HIT was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but beyond that, it was one of the most profound and life-changing. I learned I was much more resilient than I had originally thought and my respect for those who choose to serve grew tenfold by the time I crossed the finish line. When I’m having a particularly tough day, I often think back to that May 6 night. I now consider it a defining moment in my life, and I draw strength and inspiration from it whenever I need it. I am so grateful to have had the experience of running in Ruck4HIT, but my deepest gratitude is reserved for the men and women that I ran for.
Ruck4HIT 2018 is scheduled for May 4-5 and those who are interested in learning more about Ruck4HIT, or any of the other Heroes In Transition events designed to support our nation’s veterans, are encouraged to visit the HIT website, hereosintransition.org.