Last year while training for my first half marathon, I fractured my hip. Yes, I am such an uncoordinated runner that I broke myself merely training. In all honesty, in my mind I am that mime of a sleek gazelle of a woman running with fluid ease, when in truth I am sure I look like a person having a seizure and half expect the on site medical staff to run to my aid confident that I must be in distress  after all, I  look – well- awkward.  But I love to run. I am not good at it. My body giggles.  My feet hurt. And on a day that is cold like today, the screws in my hip ache and my lungs wheeze.

All said- I still love to run. More importantly, I love to think of myself as a runner.

Today- I was running with a purpose; two in fact. As a board member for McHenry County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) I am grateful to Mike Splitt having the brilliant idea to organize a Santa Run for Children charities. Last year, the inaugural year, the race attracted over 770 runners. This year, nearly a 1,000 runners. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon in December.  CASA is one of the organizations that benefit from the funds raised for the privilege of wearing a thin Santa suit and running in the cold.

This year, I was also running for Curtis M. Fike.  Curtis was a Marine. He served three combat deployments in 4 years. He left the Marines and was recalled a year and a half later for his 4th deployment before succumbing to the torment of an undiagnosed TBI and PTSD. He ended his pain and began a new journey for his loved ones on Jan 3, 2012.

He sent his sister a text saying he was sorry. He left a note to his family apologizing for doing something so stupid.  But he could not see his way out of the pain and more importantly- he had lost hope for a normal healthy life.  Curtis went from being a happy, young athlete with a breathtaking smile to a combat veteran who was prone to angry outbursts and road rage. He felt unsupported by the VA personnel who are prone to use pharmaceuticals as their go to tool.  One of the young men I talk with explained the dichotomy this way- the Military knows how to turn you from an individual to part of a unit. They just are not as good at re-individuating that same veteran. I did not know Curtis.  I don’t know his family. I learned who he was on pages of heartfelt tributes and various news articles. He was well loved and loved well.

Keri Jacobs created a community of runners a few years ago- running to raise awareness that veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 22 per day, To raise awareness of this epidemic.

I ran the Santa Run with a picture of Curtis on my back lovingly framed by the words 22 TOO MANY and Never Forgotten.

I saw the looks on people’s faces as they read the placards worn by my 6 friends. Six other veterans lost to suicide.  There are stories for many, many more. You may be asking yourself- so what? You wear some kid you don’t know- people feel sad- nothing changes. This is what changed for me. I now feel I know Curtis. He kept me company for 3.16 miles on my first race post surgery. I was scared and worried I couldn’t finish. I had not been training. In preparing for the race I found I gave up easily. I was afraid. Afraid I would hurt myself. Again.

But how do I not keep going when running with Curtis.  I thought- shit, this is NOTHING compared to back to back deployments.  What am I complaining about?  I spent the afternoon reading about the legacy that Curtis left- people who loved him, people who were touched by him, and the changes to the way that Veterans are treated at the center that was unable to light his way out of the darkness. Curtis’s legacy is now the light for those who follow.  Wearing his image kept me going. So, to me, it made a difference. And each time I tell someone about why I run and for whom, it will make difference.  My father always said- you have to suit up, show up and pick up the rope. We all have our load to bear.  We don’t have to be a superhero to change the world. We just need to be present.  Happy Sunday. Thanks, Curtis for running with me today- my load was much lighter with you with me

If you want to learn more about the mission of 22 Too Many- check out their facebook.  Or to learn about Curtis, follow this link.