Some are racing against themselves, looking to beat their personal records. Others are just hoping to finish the race. Some are running alone, others with a partner. Some have run many races, but others are undertaking a marathon for the first time. Some are active duty or retired service members and others are former service members and civilians. While the team representing the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society at the 40th Marine Corps Marathon this October is diverse in many ways, all of them share the motivation and goal of running to support our work with Sailors and Marines and their families.
After a gunman killed four Marines and a Sailor at military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee in July, former Navy Officer Jeff Merrell went online to find a way to support their families. “I found the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society,” Merrell explained, “and I remembered the Society from when I was in the service.” As an officer, Merrell had many occasions to refer Sailors to the Society. While on the Society’s website, Merrell saw that the Society sponsors a team of runners in the Marine Corps Marathon, and decided to sign up. “I’m extremely happy that I’m raising money for such a good cause,” he said.
Every morning at 4:30, while her two young daughters are still sleeping, long-time NMCRS volunteer Melanie Maheu gets up to run. Her Marine husband wakes up the girls, helps them get dressed and feeds them breakfast, then leaves for work at 6:30. “I wish I had some running buddies,” she joked, “but not many people want to run at 4:30 in the morning.” On Saturdays, Maheu goes for long runs, and is greeted on her return by pancakes which her husband and daughters have made.
Although he’s an experienced endurance athlete, this Marine Corps Marathon will be especially meaningful for former Navy JAG Doug Lareau because he’ll be running alongside his niece, Morgan Jung, a midshipman at the Naval Academy, who is running her first marathon. “She knows I have experience with endurance sports, so we decided it would be fun if we ran it together,” explained Lareau.
When she ran a recent half-marathon in Wisconsin, former Marine Melinda Smith-Swoboda wore on her body the name of a fallen hero—a service member who was killed in combat. She ran in honor of his family, to whom she donated her race medal and jersey after the race, to remind them that she was thinking of their loved one, and that his sacrifice would not be forgotten. “At mile seven, a guy ran past me and said, ‘Your heroes would be proud.’” She hadn’t expected to get choked up while running.
What started out as a collateral duty to enhance his performance evaluation unexpectedly became a labor of love for Chief Petty Officer Ken Zumwalt. In 2003, while stationed at Naval Air Station Willow Grove in Pennsylvania, Zumwalt volunteered to be a caseworker with the Society. “I got trained and it quickly became something I loved to do. I was a level three caseworker and I actually got to sit down and help people,” His division allotted Zumwalt three hours every Wednesday for his volunteer service. Later, when Zumwalt was stationed at FRC West, Zumwalt was called down to his Division Chief’s office and informed that he was on the team for the chief’s challenge. “Six of us had to lose 10 pounds each or the whole team was disqualified. So we were exercising together all the time. Before that I had always done the minimum in terms of running. I never really liked it.” But once he began running toward the goal of completing the chief’s challenge, Zumwalt became a runner. He participated in two half marathons on Joint Base Andrews.
Back in 2001, when Kim Allison’s husband, Brett, reported to his first duty station, Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina, the couple had a newborn and Kim was looking for a way to get involved in the community and meet people. She became a Budget for Baby instructor, helped with the junior sea bag program, and became a caseworker. From there, this military family made many more military moves. Today, there are four Allison children, ages 8, 11, 13, and 15. Kim says she doesn’t have as much time to volunteer as she once did, but her family still wholeheartedly supports the Society – which is why she and Brett will be running the Marine Corps Marathon together on the Society’s team.