Army captain to run for wounded soldiers
Soldiers, friends and strangers alike, inspire effort to go the distance
By Kevin Spradlin
BOONSBORO, Md. – Pay special attention to Bib No. 325.
Mike Erwin is just one of 1,100 official starters in the 46th annual John F. Kennedy 50-mile Ultramarathon. And though it’s unlikely he’ll finish in under nine hours – well off the leader’s pace – his effort just might top them all.
The event begins at 5 a.m. at Boonsboro High School. After nearly 16 miles on the rugged Appalachian Trail, roughly a full marathon on the C&O Canal Towpath and another eight miles on Washington County roads, runners finish at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport.
Erwin, 28, is a West Point graduate and a captain in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group based in Fort Bragg, N.C. The Army requires him to run. And until recently, all he had in mind was to complete his 2-mile Army Physical Fitness Training test and whatever else his superiors required and let it go at that.
Erwin was deployed to Afghanistan in August 2006. That’s until he learned of Captain Kenneth M. Dwyer. And both of their lives changed forever. Dwyer’s unit was attacked by enemies with rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. Erwin escaped serious harm. Dwyer didn’t.
“He lost his left arm, his left eye. He had shrapnel in his neck and right arm,” Erwin said in a recent phone interview. “I never even really knew him at that point.”
Fellow soldiers followed Dwyer’s recovery process from overseas. Dwyer was offered a medical discharge. He refused.
“There’s this guy, he’s married, two kids … he could have got out, retired,” Erwin said. “He decided to stay on board.” Dwyer later was promoted to major and received the Silver Star for gallantry in action under less than ideal circumstances. Read more here: http://blog.scoop0901.net/military/iraqi-special-ops-capture-al-qaeda-amir-of-karada.
Dwyer and Erwin later met. Erwin was amazed at his peer’s rehabilitation. Dwyer then told him of the Wounded Warrior Project and “all the great things they did. They handed him a bag full of supplies,” Erwin said.
“They help reintegrate soldiers whose lives have been changed permanently,” Erwin said. “Lots of simple things we take for granted.”
Erwin decided to learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project. He liked everything he heard.
“I was thoroughly impressed,” Erwin said, and decided to use a stroke of luck to other soldiers’ good fortune.
His name was drawn in the New York City Marathon in 2007. It was a no-brainer – turn the event into a fundraiser.
“Things (were) going pretty poorly in Iraq,” Erwin said of the war climate at the time. “It was a critical time to raise people’s awareness. When you come home safely … those people are never really that far from your mind.”
Erwin and supporters raised nearly $22,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Erwin wasn’t about to stop there.
“This year, I decided I gotta take it up a notch,” he said a day before flying to San Francisco to participate in a motorcycle fundraiser for WWP. “I looked at all the ultramarathons out there. I found the JFK … and it’s not only military in spirit (but) also a great location.”
In other words, he can make the trek the night before the JFK and, by early morning, be welcomes by brothers in arms. The JFK 50-mile Ultramarathon is, after all, a military event. Though it’s open to the public – and the public rushed this year to enter the race (registration closed in just 22 days) – the race was one of several that began across the country in 1963, when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy challenged military officers to meet the requirements that former President and military leader Teddy Roosevelt had set for his own military officers in the early 1900s. Roosevelt’s set the standard of 50 miles in 20 hours or less – or lose your commission as an officer.
Erwin has prepared well, putting in long runs of up to 32 miles with Timmy Banazek, of Chesterfield, Va. – his cousin and friend at the starting line of this year’s JFK.
“We’ve trained really hard,” Erwin said. “We’ve logged about 575 miles since Sept. 1. You never know what happens come race day.”
He’s raised more than $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project weeks before race day. But if he doesn’t finish the race?
“That’s something I thought about a long time ago,” Erwin said. “Geez, if I don’t finish … I’d have to be hurt. Really, it comes down to (requiring) an injury so grave, if it requires walking, then that’s what it will take. One way or another, I’ll cross that finish line.”
Race Director Mike Spinnler has little reason to doubt the word of a soldier. He called Erwin’s “one of the most intriguing stories of the JFK in 46 years.”
“This guy’s going to this length to do this fundraiser and (six) weeks later, gone,” Spinnler said.
Almost matter-of-factly, Erwin throws in – only after being asked – if he’s preparing to deploy again. He’s already been to Iraq and Afghanistan. A little more than a month after the JFK, he’ll be on a plane bound for Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
Until then, he’ll go on raising money for friends and strangers alike. It doesn’t matter, he said, if he ever meets those who are helped by the miles he’s logged.
“I don’t need to know ‘em,” Erwin said. “In many cases, it’s better that I don’t. I want people to know, we do have a lot of soldiers there whose lives have changed forever. Nothing makes me happier than when I get a donation from a stranger.
For more information on the Wounded Warrior Project or Erwin, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org/MikeErwin. If you would prefer to mail a check, please make it payable to “Wounded Warrior Project” and send to: CPT Mike Erwin, 2 Whirla Way, Pinehurst, NC 28374.
Contact Kevin Spradlin at run@mountainMDmarathon.org.
JFK 50 Mile
Washington County, Maryland
Lundblad leads field to 50-mile finish
Gardner takes third JFK women’s title
By Kevin Spradlin
WILLIAMSPORT – The fourth time’s the charm for Mark Lundblad.
The North Carolina resident improved upon last year’s fourth-place finish to win the 46th annual JFK 50-Mile Ultramarathon on Saturday an event military in spirit but attracts participants from all walks of life.
Lundblad, 39, of Swananoa, N.C., won in an unofficial time of 6 hours, 7 minutes and 9 seconds – an average of 7:19 per mile over 15 miles of rugged Appalachian Trail, 26 miles of C&O Canal Towpath and the last eight miles along rolling country roads in Washington County.
Lundblad also was fourth in 2004 (6:20:38), fifth in 2005 (6:24:36). Last year’s fourth-place time was 6:09:17.
Second on Saturday was Oz Pearlman in 6:13:18 (7:27 pace). Pearlman, 26i, of New York City, is a three-time winner of the Chicago Lakefront 50-miler and owner of the fastest 50-mile time in 2007 (5:31:51), according to a report in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.
Teage O’Conner, 25, of Burlington, Vermont, was third in 6:14:58 and Johan Oosthuizen, 35, of Middleburg, South Africa, was fourth in 6:17:31. New Yorker Michael Arnstein, 31, rounded out the top five in 6:24:36.
Connie Gardner, 45, of Medina, Ohio, captured her third JFK title by beating JFK newcomer Susan Graham-Gray, of Greencastle, Pa., by more than 17 minutes. Gardner finished 21st overall in 7:15:16 while Graham-Gray was 31st in 7:32:56. Cheri Fine, 44, of Atlanta, finished 53rd in 8:06:01, edging Zara Rhone, 38, of Beaver Creek, Ohio, by 23 seconds for the final spot on the medal stand.
Hagerstown resident Andrew Mason, 36, was 10th overall in 6:40:32 – just behind Tussey Mountainback Relay partner Pete Breckinridge, 38, of Norfolk, Va. (6:35:17) – and the top local finisher.
Cumberland resident Aaron MacGray, 24, placed 83rd overall in 8:32:11, an average of 10:13 per mile.