“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:13
My general military knowledge can be classified as ignorant at best. Both of my grandfathers were veterans and I was raised in a household where we were taught to be respectful, patriotic, and thankful for our military. I remember going to the “Laser Show” in Stone Mountain, GA and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” bringing tears to my eyes. It still does. In college, the swim team and ROTC pretty much opened the dining hall for breakfast. Other than a few “good mornings”, and a sociology class on the military, I remained blissfully clueless.
Like so many others, September 11th 2001 changed me. I was preparing to head back to school in Chicago from Southern California, and awoke to see the attacks unfolding live. My body’s response was shock, tears, and a migraine. One of my best friend’s dad was the county fire chief and immediately sent earthquake search and rescue teams out to New York in hopes of finding survivors. I was on one of the first flights to leave LAX later that week, and for the first time in my life, I was nervous about flying.
As ugly as the September 11th attacks were, I did notice the beauty it brought about. They united the nation and seemed to bring about a renewed sense of patriotism. As a competitive swimmer my whole life, teamwork and unity two things I value deeply.
My first exposure to the Special Operations Community occurred when I was interning for a sports agency in downtown Chicago. I remember news breaking that Pat Tillman had been KIA. The grown men in the office were in tears before I learned his entire story. While so many service members and their families make huge sacrifices each day, it took a story like this to truly open my eyes.
After graduating, I returned to Southern California to attend grad school for Sport and Event Management, and to help care for my father who was very ill at the time. I coached swimming while going to school and afterwards I accepted a full time position coaching in Palm Springs where I was lucky enough to work with several military families. I was always in awe of the sacrifices they made and how polite and respectful the kids were with an amazing work ethic.
With my dad having received a heart transplant, and returning to his old self, and the loss of my grandfather, who was a hero to me in every sense of the word hero, I felt the need to spread my wings, and moved to Kauai. I coached swimming, lifeguarded, and had time to reflect about what I really wanted to do with my life. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work with military families in a recreational capacity. I enjoyed being there for the kids in Palm Springs while their parents were deployed, and providing them with a healthy distraction, even if it was just for an hour or two. Once again I spread my wings and ended up in Honolulu.
I accepted a job in Sports Marketing and returned to my swimming roots. Ever since I was old enough, I competed in the Gatorman (3 miles) Event at the La Jolla Rough Water Swim. I fell in easily with the Open Water swimmers and Ironman athletes here on Oahu. Over the course of my racing and training, I have been blessed enough to meet a few Special Operations Service members and their family members. I learned about Operation Red Wings through a friend who was attending an event to honor those lost on the anniversary.
Recently, a Special Ops Service Member who worked with friends was lost while training. This truly put into perspective, how much these unsung heroes put their lives on the line day in and day out. While I did not know him or his family personally, I somehow felt a loss, and felt for my friends. I was touched to hear about how quickly the community rallied around the Leathers family and entered the Hapalua Half Marathon and quickly raised funds for his wife and three young children. I wish I could have helped, but I am no runner, and was definitely not prepared to run a half.
This got me thinking of how many charity runs there seem to be on an island that also has a lot of swim races and other athletic events. This made me curious about if there were any military charity swims anywhere in the country. I found a Frogman 5k in Tampa Bay, but I don’t think I could be much further away from that event.
So who am I? I am a former world ranked pool & open water swimmer, an All-American, and a Big Ten Champion that wants to do her part. I can relate to the concept of being a team and to be something bigger than one’s self. As I mentioned a little ignorant on military lifestyle, but now due to former teammates married into, former swimmers being children of, and training partners being members of the military community, I wanted to find a way to give back. I believe that the military, the Special Operations Community in particular really exemplifies what it means to be a team and to be a part of the whole. This summer I’ll be racing over 9 races and over 16 miles, and hope to provide increased awareness and raise funds for the Red Circle Foundation. I am thankful that RCF has allowed me the opportunity to do my part and appreciate any and all donations to this organization. You can follow my training, and racing adventures on twitter @Swim4SpecOps & @redcirclefdn.