Editor’s note: Frank Anthony wrote this observation of the event the day after.
ST. HELEN – One More Mile means a little more to me today. Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is that my body is wrecked from that 22 miles and it was all worth it. Once I get past the current all-encompassing pain experience many other things come to mind. I experienced and saw a lot of inspiring things during this event.
A young man from Lincoln Park ran the whole thing carrying an Honor & Remembrance flag. He said he does every event he can find. It had 36 streamers on it with 36 names. They were people he either served with in Iraq or is connected to in some way. About half were killed on the battlefield and the other half died later of related injuries and suicide.
We talked a couple minutes and then he ran off on his 22-mile journey for his fallen brothers. He carried that big heavy Honor flag for 22 miles, he carried those 36 lost brothers the whole way. What a burden he must carry. Made me feel silly, I don’t have to carry near the load that young man does.
As part of my journey I carried a pair of boots in my backpack to represent my cousin Bobby. He served in the Marine Corps with me. I wanted to carry him because I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. It breaks my heart and I know I can’t change the past. And even though I try to live with no regrets, I must admit I carry some. Not being there for Bobby is one. My brother in every way and he struggled deeply. I never reached out, I never called or visited. I can see him sitting on the edge of his bed just hoping for an intervention. I could have been that and I regret it profoundly. He committed suicide in 2003. He couldn’t go One More Mile, so I must for him.
I also saw inspiration in a 66-year-old woman. I have known her for many years. She wanted to walk for the special veterans in her life that have passed on. She told me she wanted to do the whole 22 miles. To be honest, I had no faith. She began at the back walking with me and Jim Troost in the wheelchair. She was quiet mostly, which is unlike her. Jim, the “wheelchair guy”, talked nonstop, it was a treat for me. His older brother served in Vietnam and his father served in Korea and Vietnam. His dad died later at 53 of service-connected illness and his brother the same at 64.
Although Jim never served, he has dedicated his life to serving veterans. He has volunteered for 27 years with the American Legion and the last 25 years as a member of the Grand Rapids home for veterans. He had stories from every war since WWI from all the veterans he has cared for over the decades. The stories were priceless and just like he had been there himself. He truly did a great service to those veterans that he listened intently to for decades. We would do well to remember that, less talking and more listening. People mostly want to be heard.
In 1990 Jim was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a death sentence 4 years earlier and still a very low survival rate for any period. Although the disease and treatment has left Jim dependent on a wheelchair, he has survived against all odds for 29 years. A rolling miracle who found life through serving others. Another point we would all do well to remember.
He has a great spirit even though he has great challenges. He pushed that chair for 7 miles down dirt roads for hours. I couldn’t do that. He was greatly disappointed he couldn’t go further. So, after he dropped out it was just me and Judy, the 66-year-old lady.
We were about an hour and a half behind everyone by now. We continued on, small talk along the way. I kept asking if she was doing ok and if she wanted to stop. She kept saying she wanted to do the whole thing. I still doubted. I knew I would finish. I didn’t know how much pain I would be in or what the damage would be, but I knew I would finish. I had to get Bobby to the finish line.
As we passed the 17 mile mark my legs were screaming and my knees were on fire. I looked at Judy and she looked as though she didn’t have a care in the world, just determination on her face. I was blown away at this point. I couldn’t believe how far she had made it. I was impressed.
About that time an ORV pulled up with one of our firefighters and his wife on board. They had biked the whole 22 miles and had been done for a while. They came back to walk with us. I was very touched by this, it was unexpected. They walked 4 miles with us, and it helped tremendously during our toughest time.
We got to the St. Helen Veterans Memorial, about one and a half miles from the finish line. They bid us farewell with encouragement and left us to complete our journey, just Judy and me. One and a half miles to go.
As we walked through downtown, I could see Judy’s legs were shaky, I put her on the inside away from the road. This is my habit anyway as any man worth anything walks with women and children on the inside away from the road and danger.
As we neared the school and the finish line, a couple joined us. Adam and Jill founded the A Veteran Helping Veteran (AVHV) veteran’s nonprofit I partnered with. They are not quite up to walking for distance, but they came out to walk the last half mile with us, to bring us home. Adam is an Iraq War veteran and just wants to serve veterans. Adam and his wife Jill made this event far better than it would have otherwise been and has been a good partner in this effort.
So, all four of us crossed the finish line at the end of a 22.8-mile journey. For this adventure, this police chief, a man in a wheelchair, and a 66-year-old lady, made the journey for this unlikely pairing more rewarding and inspiring. I am indeed a blessed man. Although Jim had to stop at 7 miles, I carried him with me too. He had become a part of my journey. Yes, I carry burdens, but God matches them with gifts and I’m thankful. I’m even thankful for my pain today that tells me I’m alive and living things worth living.
In the end, we are all here roaming around bumping into one another on this journey. If we take a day to remember those facing higher hills and darker days, we can inspire the same to see the light, then we will all help build a better tomorrow. And thank you for being a part of my journey, it wouldn’t be the same without you.
I’ll see you at the finish line next year.
Till then, never forget, you can always go that ONE MORE MILE!