A few years ago, a group that I was training decided to honor Connecticut Fallen Heroes. We each ran our long run that day (I believe it was 25+ trail miles) with a picture and a few paragraphs that described a member of the military that was killed in combat. We all got our hero the night before. Learned a bit about him, and thought and talked about them on our run.
I choose Specialist Wilfredo Perez, Jr. I didn’t know this young man. I only know the information in the picture. He stays with me. The paper in a Ziploc bag and in spirit. I think about him a lot. I wonder if his family called him Wilfredo or did he have a nickname? His mom called him “Junior” in a newspaper article. I wonder what exactly was happening at the Children’s Hospital when he died. I think and wonder a lot. I wonder about his family. Does the grief subside? Are they OK? Do they know they are special to me? I hope they know that their sacrifice, their son’s life, was not in vain. He is special to me and he is a total stranger.
What I do know is that this young man is that he is a hero. When life gets tough I think about his picture and article in my pack. He’s been to all of my races after all. Running an ultramarathon is NOT suffering. Running is a CHOICE. Suffering is losing your child in a war. Suffering is not a choice. I try to channel strength. If this young man can offer his life, the ultimate sacrifice, I can run a few miles and be strong. All sorts of strength comes from this young man. He tells me to suck it up a lot.
I find that many think that our veterans and active duty are “broken.” Trauma both physical and mental is very real. However, they are NOT broken. They are strong. They are honorable. Some may be healing. But these people that have chosen to protect our country are NOT BROKEN.
I will keep running with Wilfredo in my pack. I will wonder and think. I will draw upon his strength. And I wish the utmost of peace, love, and respect to his family and friends.