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Meet a woman who made it her mission in life to come to the aid of wounded veterans.
More than 49,000. That’s how many American servicemen and women have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. A sobering number.
Sadder still are the new battles they face to reintegrate into life at home, a life that, for many, has been forever changed by the physical and psychological wounds they’ve sustained in the service of their country.
My family experienced the effects of combat through multiple deployments. We were also living on a military base and surrounded by servicemembers and their families who were dealing with the severities of war.
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Our close friend Marine Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Maxwell and his unit, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, experienced the worst that combat has to offer. In 2004 shrapnel from a mortar attack left Tim with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), one of the signature combat wounds of these wars.
He didn’t get a big welcome-home celebration with his unit. Instead, Tim went from one military hospital to another for treatment, transferred from Germany to Maryland to Virginia.
For a while his wife, my friend Shannon, was making the five-hour drive from Camp Lejeune to the VA hospital in Richmond several times a week.
She never seemed to let it get her down, but I could tell it was hard on her—balancing being caregiver, wife and mom to two small children with her new role as a patient advocate, navigating a military medical system that wasn’t yet equipped to handle the surge of wounded returning veterans and the types of injuries they had.
“We’re blessed to have so much support,” Shannon told me in the fall of 2005, after she and Tim had returned back to Camp Lejeune. “But what about all the families who don’t? The ones who need someone to talk to? Someone to show them how to manage the paperwork and tell them about the best hospitals or how to talk to their kids about their parent’s injuries? It’s got to be even more overwhelming for them.”
Maybe it didn’t have to be. Maybe something could be done to give Tim and other wounded vets the welcome home they deserved and raise money to help their families. Something that would remind people how important our servicemembers’ sacrifices are. But what?
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I was pregnant with my second child and at home on bed rest that fall, so I had plenty of time to think about it. An auction? A benefit dinner? A bake sale? Nothing seemed dynamic enough to make people feel involved.
Maybe it was because I missed being active myself, but one day in October I kept thinking about my favorite form of exercise pre-pregnancy: running. How could that help wounded vets? Wait! I had it! I grabbed the phone off the nightstand and called Shannon.
“What do you think about putting together a race?” I said. “The registration fees can go toward wounded servicemembers and their families and we’ll have a big celebration too, to welcome them home. People will see that they can do more than just write a check. They can run! As a show of support.”
The words tumbled out from somewhere deep inside me.
For a moment Shannon was quiet. Then she said, “Robin, I love it! Let’s do it.” Within minutes we had a name: Run For The Warriors. Over the next few weeks we tossed around ideas. Where would the race be held? How would we get the word out?
We turned to Bonnie Amos, wife of Lt. Gen. James F. Amos and the II MEF Commander for help. I e-mailed her and laid out our idea. She wrote back right away, demonstrating amazing support.
Major General Robert Dickerson, Commanding General of Camp Lejeune, gave us permission to hold the event there. A race wasn’t the typical type of event held on the military base, but both Generals were passionate about the needs of the wounded and their families, and offered their full support.