Monday, April 18, 2011

Rebel Run-a-thon

Rhett Anthony, the Colonel, Jim "Psycho" Ward,
 and Dan "Danno" Carpenter loop The Grove
 in the inaugural Run-a-thon.
Google the term "run-a-thon" and the dozen or so of you who regularly waste rod and cone time perusing posts hereon will find several references to running events held to raise funds for charity.  The Colonel has no doubt in his military mind that he and his classmates in the Semper Fidelis Society at Ole Miss coined the term and hosted the first "Run-a-thon" thirty-five years ago this spring.

The Colonel wishes he had trade-marked the term.

Besieged by scores of sorority sisters batting lashes and begging pledges of dollars for March of Dimes for each mile walked in the annual Walk-a-thon, the Colonel (then a lowly NROTC Midshipman) had a rare moment of mental clarity (it is unbelievably difficult to think when besieged by a lash-batting, sugar-mouthed Ole Miss coed) and empathy (the Colonel is an INTJ -- Google that and understand his difficulty feeling for others' misfortune).   In that fleeting moment of rare mental clarity and empathy, the thought occurred to the Colonel that he and his brother (and sister) Middies could do the whole walk-a-few-miles-for-charity thing in a much more manly (and womanly) manner.  

We NROTC midshipman (the Marine officer aspirants, in particular) weren't walkers.  We were runners.  

Not joggers.  Runners.    

We future Marine leaders had stellar Marine leaders teaching us and they stressed leadership from the front.  Our Marines would be running, not jogging, and a Marine officer needed to be running out front.  We future Marine leaders also had a rite of passage to complete near the end of our college matriculation--Officer Candidate School--and said rite of passage was not passed walking, nor even jogging.  

So, we ran.  Three, four, five miles a day.  Every day. The goal was to run sub-six minute miles.  That was a high and rarely attained goal.  So we ran hard, pushing ourselves.  We ran laps around the joggers on campus.  The only ones running faster were the athletes on scholarship. 

But, we ran farther.  Much farther.  Forrest Gump farther.

Our leaders challenged us to do something for charity every year.  In years past the NROTC Battalion of Midshipmen had played marathon softball games for charity and pummeled fat frat rats in charity boxing smokers.  But this year we would do something that would capture the imagination, and capitalize on our strength.

We would run as far as we could run in 24 hours and collect pledges for each mile run.  We would concentrate our pledge efforts on the monied Sorority and Fraternity Rows.  We would take their daddies' money in huge wads--we were known for running long distances, but no one could fathom the distance we could run in 24 hours.  Most pledgers thought, at best, we would log ten miles each. 

We planned, secretly, to double that, at least.

At the center of the Ole Miss campus sits a wooded patch of hallowed ground known as The Grove, the home of the most famous and most genteel college game-day "tailgate" assemblance in all the land.  The irregular circumference of The Grove is exactly one half of one mile.  In those days, the Naval ROTC unit was headquartered in McCain Hall (named in honor of the Senator's grandfather) across Grove Loop from The Grove.  We set up bivouac, and runner check-in, out front of McCain Hall.

The rules for that first Run-a-thon, and every one thereafter, were simple.  A baton would be kept moving around The Grove in the hands of a dedicated runner for 24 hours, in 30 minute shifts.  All other runners could run at their own pace and at their own desired time of day or night, but were encouraged to run at least one of their laps around The Grove with the designated baton carrier.  

At the start of that first Run-a-thon, more than a score of runners escorted the baton around The Grove for several laps.  Late into the night the baton kept circling The Grove; sometimes the runner carrying it in lonely pavement-pounding vigil.

At the end of that first Run-a-thon many of the runners had covered more than twenty miles.  Jim "Psycho" Ward (later to command a Navy F/A-18 squadron and currently commanding airliners) logged thirty miles and set a bar over which future Run-a-thon runners would be challenged to take a running jump.   As memory serves, and it serves rather slovenly these days, the Colonel believes that Jim also set the record for the longest seated shower immediately following the inaugural Run-a-thon--and proved that one could actually consume meals under running water.   

That first Run-a-thon netted over a thousand dollars (a tidy sum of lots of sorority girls' daddies' money in 1976) for the March of Dimes.

The Colonel's #1 son, then himself a midshipman in the Ole Miss NROTC program, ran for over 30 miles in the 25th Annual Run-a-thon.   The Colonel doesn't know if the tradition continues, but he will be a presenter at the Ole Miss NROTC Awards Day next week and intends to find out.  If the tradition has lapsed, the Colonel will attempt to challenge its re-institution.    

Just hope they don't challenge the Colonel to run with 'em.              
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