The wind chimes on my iPhone go off. It’s four hours since I got off work and I’m up, struggling to put on my running clothes.
I’m doing it because it’s Friday, and in an hour I’ll be at the starting point of Team Red, White and Blue’s weekly group run.
I wish the sun was up. I only have a reflecte strip on my arm. The rest of my running clothes are dark and warm. My trail shoes don’t have a speck of reflective material, because who needs reflective stuff on the trail? I say a silent prayer as I get out of my car, asking God for another safe run. Yes, I’m paranoid about that kind of stuff, especially when I’m half awake.
About four or five of us gather under Jerry West, a statue created to honor the legendary West Virginian and former NBA star who is the league’s logo. We exchange pleasantries as we stretch and shake off the cold.
And then we’re off. The route during the winter is on the well-lit streets of Morgantown, W.Va., near West Virginia University’s Evansdale campus and the hospital, a total of about four miles. We go up hills, cross intersections and talk about family and other Team RWB and athletic activities. Our feet hit the street at different beats, but we share the same melody of friendship.
Every time I come out, I’m the slowest. I feel kind of bad, but the faster runners loop around to make sure we stick together. I know in time, I’ll speed up. Since I started with Team RWB a few months ago, I already feel like a stronger runner than I was before.
Sometimes we carry a U.S. flag with us. People will honk their car horns as a way of saying they support us. We wave and carry on. And we run without the flag. We always run as one group, fast and slow, together as one.
At the end, we usually climb this long hill to get back to Jerry’s statue. It’s a struggle, but my heart is full. For more than half an hour I was among grown-ups, discussing adult things and running.
We take a picture with Jerry and head out. I drive back home with my windows down and the radio up despite the cold. It’s a runner’s high I have never been able to capture alone. And it hits me every time I go on a group run with Team RWB.
I was introduced to Team RWB through the Sub 30 Club, a Facebook group started by Runners World columnist Ted Spiker. What started as a group for those who want to reach a sub-30 minute 5k time has evolved since then to a group of running fanatics who are passionate about bacon, running and everything in between.
One of the long-time members is Kim from Texas. She is a Team RWB member and frequent posts photos of herself in her team singlet, carrying the flag or participating with team members in various events. Her stories and strength are amazing.
Then I saw HIM at my second half-marathon in Wheeling, W.Va. A Team RWB member lined up in the starting line pack near me. Once we got going, he passed me and I saw his flag. It was huge and on a wood-and-brass flag pole. Some of the runners cheered as he passed. I did too.
Again, I was inspired. There was this man carrying this flag on 13.1 miles of some of West Virginia’s hilliest roads, and here I was holding nothing and worrying about Gu and water breaks. He was/is awesome in my book.
So, when another member of the Sub 30 Club posted something about Team RWB having a membership drive, I looked at the cost (free) and jumped in.
At the time, I wasn’t sure whether my schedule would allow me to do anything with them. Working an evening/night shift limits my ability to do things when the rest of the world is off work. But they had things I could do. And I’ve been coming almost every Friday ever since.
I applied to be a charity runner for Team RWB, because I know how it has helped me. I know that if I’m helped as a civilian, veterans out there must be getting the same if not better benefits than I am.
It’s free to join and many activities make Team RWB a family friendly organization.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m raising money for the group so I can run in the Marine Corps Marathon in October.
What do you get for your donation? A member gave me a rough breakdown of what some of the nonprofit’s money goes toward. Thanks to Brennan Mullaney, Team RWB Mid-Atlantic regional director, for the information.
- $25 puts a slick Team RWB shirt on the back of a veteran.
- $50 provides a vet with a free race entry, while Team RWB provides the support network and encouragement.
- $100 gets a new pair of athletic shoes. The local team gives veterans a place to come put them to good use.
- $500 sends a veteran to an all-expenses paid Veteran Athletic and Leadership Camp. The camp empowers him or her with the knowledge and confidence to lead in his or her community.