A few weeks ago, a close running friend lost his oldest son to the war in Afghanistan. I wanted to act. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call him and let him know that I was here if he or his family needed anything. But I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t know what to say. There aren’t any Hallmark cards filed under “Lost A Son/Daughter To War” … no classes about how to talk to somebody after they’ve lost a child. So I went out for a run. I thought about Nick. I thought about his dad, his sisters, his brother and his friends.
I didn’t have a black armband to wear so I dug out one of my LiveStrong bracelets, as much to honor Lance in his Tour de France comeback and all of the cancer survivors and victims, as to honor Nick and his sacrifice. Every time I looked at the bracelet, my thoughts turned to Nick’s family. I wanted to go to the wake but I missed the announcement. I wanted to go to the funeral to pay my respects. I didn’t want to face the family. I didn’t want to deal with the commotion. So I went out for a run. I thought about Nick. I said a short prayer – or at least what passes for a prayer for this multi-religion agnostic Taoist scientist. I thanked him. I ran. I ached but knew that nothing that I could do to myself running would approach the pain that Nick had experienced and his family had had to deal with … and that they continue to deal with every day.
Today was the 4 week anniversary of Nick’s death. Today was also the national Run For The Fallen. Run For The Fallen was begun in 2008 when a team of runners ran from Fort Irwin, CA to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, marking each mile with an American flag and a sign card remembering each service person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On August 24th of 2008, runners from around the world ran in memory of those lost in their communities, marking the miles with flags. In Yarmouth, Lt. Steven Xiarhos organized a local run to remember the 5 service people lost in Afghanistan. This year’s bibs added a 6th mile and a 6th name, USMC Cpl Nicholas G. Xiarhos. I didn’t get much notice about this year’s run, finding out about it only a few days ago. With the recent events I wasn’t even sure if it would happen or not but I felt it was important for me to be there this year. My father is a Marine Corps veteran and I needed to show my support for Lt. Xiarhos and his family.
I met the lieutenant on the stairs of the Skipper Restaurant. We shook hands, hugged, and he smiled and thanked me for coming. After an opening ceremony anchored by Katie Couric from WBZ-TV, the walkers headed east on S. Shore Drive while we struck out west and on to Seaview Avenue. We ran. At each mile, I saluted and paused for a second to remember each of those who gave up their lives in service to our country: Sgt Mark Vecchione, Sgt Alexander Fuller, Ssgt Alicia Birchet, PFC Daniel McGuire, PFC Paul Conlon, and finally Cpl Nicholas Xiarhos. I like to run the loop twice but with the extra mile and high humidity, opted instead for six-minute miles in honor of the six fallen, followed by a 5K cool down. On the way back towards the Skipper, I joined Lt. Xiarhos and his friend from Costa Rica, Carlos Arredondo, another Gold Star parent. A Gold Star parent is a parent who has lost a child in military service. Mr. Arredondo lost his son Alexander in Iraq in 2004 and ran step-for-step with Lt. Xiarhos around the 6 mile course … on a broken ankle … carrying a large flag. Just before reaching the Skipper, we stopped for a few prayers at Nick’s sign card. Then Lt. Xiarhos picked up the flag and we finished the last 2/10 of a mile to the Skipper. We ran together. We ran strong. We hurt. We released some pain.
Some finished ahead, some finished behind … but for 6 miles all of us were together in action and thought. On the way in, Lt. Xiarhos said with a mile, “It’s a great day. Running really brings us all together.” “That’s the truth,” I replied. May this run never add another mile.
The Wounded Warrior Project provides support and care for members of the armed services severely injured in action and their families. They provide counseling, transition training, work assistance, and many other services including their popular WWP Packs, backpacks delivered to hospital bedsides of the injured, packed full of essentials and comfort items. To make a donation to the project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.