Remember those who aren’t here to run with us

It’s no secret. I do NOT enjoy running.

I won’t go so far as to say I HATE it, but if forced to choose between running and getting a root canal, I’d choose the root canal. At least there are some BENEFITS to getting a root canal. All I get after running is TIRED!

When people hear that I was an enlisted Marine before joining the Air Force, they often ask: “What made you switch?” 

The answer: “Running … I don’t like it.”

The Corps’ periodic fitness test included a three-mile run. I heard rumors that people in the Air Force, instead of running, rode stationary bicycles as part of their fitness test — often in air-conditioned buildings. I couldn’t join fast enough! 

But, they pulled the ol’ bait-n-switch on me. Shortly after I joined the Air Force, they quit the bike test and returned to making running mandatory. At least it’s only a mile and a half instead of the three I used to do in the Corps. Years ago, I figured I could manage it. But it’s a challenge as I get older. So, I try to stay on top of things by working out when I can.

I was told I would ride a bike for the Air Force fitness test. But when I joined, they switched to running instead. The ol’ bait-n-switch!

For those of you not in the military, fitness testing can cause some anxiety because performing poorly can affect your career. For added incentive, those who score a 90 or better (out of 100) don’t have to test again for 12 months, while those who score less than 90 have to retest in six months. I’ve been fortunate to score well each year I’ve tested.

My 2017 test score was due to expire soon, so I took the 2018 test today. Scheduling a test in the desert, where today’s high is 102 degrees, was probably not one of my wisest decisions. (Luckily, it was a bit cooler when I took the test in the morning.) As I ran around the track, my gait was nonexistent. Some people have nice form, gliding around like a gazelle. Me? I have to force myself to shove my brick-like feet, one in front of the other until the misery stops. While running, I could feel gritty sand drying my mouth out as I sucked wind. Imagine running inside of a hair dryer … It was brutal.

About halfway through, I was worried I wouldn’t do well and began regretting my decision to test today. I scolded myself, saying, “Why didn’t I just wait to test when I returned stateside? WHAT made me think testing today, on Memorial Day, was a good idea?!”

Oh, yeah … Memorial Day … That day where we remember those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I spent the remainder of my time on the track thinking about people who would rather have been taking a fitness test than face whatever circumstances led to their demise.

I thought about people like Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs and the seven Airmen who perished when their helicopter crashed in western Iraq earlier this year. I’m sure, if faced with the choice of death or a fitness test, Dashan would choose to live and run.

I thought about people like Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson, who, along with three other members of the Thunderbirds Air Demo Squadron, died while practicing an aerial demonstration in 1982.

In 2014 I was fortunate to meet the family of Capt Pete Peterson, whose T-38 Talon crashed with three other Airmen while practicing for a Thunderbirds air show in 1982.

I had a chance to meet the Peterson family a few years ago. They’re great people who celebrate Pete’s life every day. But, I’m sure if Pete had to choose between running a few tough laps around a track or death, Pete would choose to live and run.

A voice in my head said, “Stop your bitching, Darrick.”

So, I kept my head straight and looked forward while my headphones pumped the sounds of The Souls of Mischief in my ear (’93 ’til Infinity) to push me along the track.

The rest of the run was still a challenge. But, with my new perspective, it was a welcomed one. Before I knew it, the run was over, and I finished with the fastest time I’ve had in years.

It’s probably a stretch to credit Dashan and Pete for a good run time. But I give thanks to them anyway, since their memory certainly played a part. One thing’s for sure — When I take my fitness test again in 12 months on Memorial Day 2019, I will start the run by remembering those who aren’t here to run with us.

Choosing to take a fitness test in the desert was not one of my wisest decisions. But this Memorial Day, I’ll remember those who are no longer here to run with us.


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