Team Running Strong and Its Connection to the Marine Corps Marathon

The 40th Annual Marine Corps Marathon:

The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) has become the 4th largest marathon in the US and 9th in the world. This marathon doesn’t off prize money and is considered “The People’s Marathon.” Colonel Jim Fowler had an idea. While the popularity of military services was on a decline after the Vietnam War, distance running was gaining popularity and positive attention. Fowler wrote a memo to his superior in 1975, detailing his ideas and image of having a “Marine Corps Reserve Marathon” to promote community goodwill, highlight the Marine Corps, serve as recruiting tool and to give local Marines a chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

The name marathon evokes military history and is the kind of event which the public finds in consonance with the image of Marines,” Fowler stated in his memo to General Michael Ryan. This idea was taken very well and was approved. “The Peoples Marathon” has gained a lot of attention since its birth and with that popularity; it has attracted celebrities such as politicians, local public figures, and even Oprah Winfrey, who finished with a time of 4:29:15 in her first marathon. Who would’ve thought that O ran a marathon, and more shockingly, ran it so well?! She sparked a movement and challenged those out there, to run and beat her time. Tons of charity organizations have participated in this event series as well, raising awareness and fundraising for their causes.

This event has evolved into a premier running organization with 30 full-time staff, and thousands of volunteers that consist of Marines, Sailors, and civilians to ensure the MCM mission is carried out with the founders intentions: “To promote physical fitness, generate community goodwill, and showcase the organizational skills of the United States Marine Corps”—is reflected in each MCM, Historic Half, and MCM Event Series race.

Running Strong for American Indian Youth:

28 minutes, 24.4 seconds and the will to win is all it took for the Oglala Lakota underdog to win the 1964 Olympic 10k Gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, member for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and only American to win the gold, is the National Spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Billy shocked the world when he came from behind to pass Mohamed Gammoudi and Ron Clarke on the outside, strides before the finish line to grab the Gold. A humble, sweet, funny, and kind man was left with the feeling of appreciation, gratitude, and wanting to give back to his people.

Billy wanted to give back to his community and pave a better path for our American Indian youth to be successful, filled with opportunities. Running Strong was founded under the Christian Relief Services in 1986 and joined forces with Eugene Krizek, to bring basic resources and hope to some of the most impoverished Tribal communities in the United States. Running Strong was created and took off; making long lasting impacts on the people and communities that Billy and Running Strong serve.

How is Running Strong for American Indian Youth connected to the Marine Corps Marathon?

Billy earned a track scholarship from the University of Kansas where he set numerous records and then served as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps. It wasn’t until 2004, that the Marine Corps Marathon chose Billy Mills, as the official starter and Team Running Strong was born.

Team Running Strong for the MCM is the official organized charity team. Team members are able to participate and take advantage of the activities throughout the weekend, while raising money of $722 (Billy’s bib number). Team members come from all over to support a great cause and to accomplish a great, personal triumph!

A Spectator’s Remarks:

My experience over the MCM and Team Running Strong events was an amazing and unforgettable one. New friendships, new stories, tons of pictures, tons of laughs, and tons of smiles were all created from the weekend’s events. This was my second year volunteering at the Honoring Ceremony and race day events that Running Strong hosts. After meeting with all the runners and listening to guest speakers, it left me with the feeling of wanting to run for Team Running Strong at the 2016 41st Annual Marine Corps Marathon. When I voiced this crazy idea to Billy, he said, “I’ll see you at the starting line then” as he gave me a one armed hug. Luckily, my training cycle began 3 three weeks ago, so at least I know I can finish the race by next October.

Everyone who came to this event and represented Team Running Strong, were all warriors and inspiring in my eyes. I was very excited and nervous for them as I watched them be blessed and smudged down on the terrace. It’s those race jitters you get whenever you step on the starting line, and I felt it for all of them! Regardless of time or goals, they were here to run 26.2 miles for a reason, to be part of something greater than them. The thought of running 26.2 miles has always seemed crazy to me but has always been a goal of mine to run it at the Olympic Trials. As to when that will happen, time will tell. Not only did the runners blow me away, but the Running Strong staff, and volunteers who came, inspired me and I felt internally grateful to them. The work that is being accomplished by Running Strong is truly remarkable and to be able to read or watch what they are doing in these Tribal communities, and knowing it’s making a difference, brings so much joy in my heart. The hours they put in and the dedication is the backbone that makes Running Strong successful. Billy’s influence and personal story he tells when he travels (more than 3/4 of the year), is changing our American Indian youths lives as well as the people in general. Billy used his success as his platform to create change and to shed light on some of these impoverished communities in the nation. He is an innovator, a leader, a friend, and apparently my Oglala lala now. Billy, his wife Pat, Running Strong, Team Running Strong, the volunteers and those who came to support and cheer, are family to me, my tiospaye.

So to end this, I just want to say CONGRATULATIONS to the runners and hope you are able to walk without pain by now, especially down the stairs! You all have inspired me and I look forward to our paths crossing again. I also want to thank (wopila tanka): Billy Mills, Patricia Mills, Running Strong staff, volunteers, and Team Running Strong! Keep up the great work! Mitakuye Oyasin!

For more information on Running Strong for American Indian Youth, click here.

For more information on the Marine Corps Marathon, click here.

Running Strong Staff:

Lauren Haas Finkelstein, Jenn Rivera, Cassie Chee, Julia Wejchert, Steve Hunt (Christian Relief Services), Sherron Pearson (Christian Relief Services), Anita Uyehara (Christian Relief Services and Team Running Strong).

2015 Team Running Strong:

Maura Abrams (6:15:17), Vodne Chapoose (5:30:13), Kate Elstad (6:21:22), Gwynne Evans-Lomayesva (6:05:52), Jacquelyn Hartzler (7:01:24), Rachel Kubishin (5:49:18), Lillian McLaughlin (5:01:57), Karla Mendolla (5:26:36), Lisa Monkman (6:16:18), Anne O’Neil (3:43:22), James Pine (5:05:56— unsure), David Symington (5:25:01), Cindy Tope (5:49:19), Victor Trevino (5:11:50), Anita Uyehara (5:17:10), Israel Wasserstein (4:39:28), and K’ia Whiteskunk (5:28:53).


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