Capital City Half Marathon: 'Ruckers' will carry heavy load for charity
Friday, May 6, 2011 03:07 AM
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
It can be hard to stand out in a sea of 12,000 runners.
But it won't be difficult on Saturday to spot Derrick Holbrook, David Kirker, Kurt Davis and the other 35 or so runners who are part of the group "Rucking 4 Change" at the Capital City Half Marathon.
It's a bit tough to blend in the crowd running 13.1 miles while wearing military fatigues, combat boots and a loaded backpack. (In the military, backpacks are termed rucksacks, hence the term ruckers.)
"I think the most common quote is, 'Wow, you guys are crazy,'" Holbrook said.
The ruckers aren't looking to show off. They are members of the military, with a few wives and girlfriends mixed in, who'll run to raise money for an undetermined beneficiary.
This will be the third time Rucking 4 Change has participated in Columbus' half-marathon. Holbrook, Kirker and Davis were with Alpha Company, 148th Infantry based in Walbridge, Ohio, near Toledo four years ago when they decided to enter as an informal part of their training during their preparations for deployment in Iraq.
In 2007, they raised about $5,000 and gave it to a girl with cystic fibrosis. The ruckers didn't participate the next two years because of the Iraq deployment. Last year, they donated about the same amount to the husband of Kirker's cousin, a Marine who had overcome serious injuries sustained in Iraq, so he could attend medical school.
"We don't tell them until we show up at their doorstep," Holbrook said. "We've said, 'Here's $5,000. We don't care how you spend it.'"
They haven't settled on a beneficiary this year, in part because Holbrook and Davis have been busy preparing to be deployed in Afghanistan in late July.
They don't expect the killing of Osama bin Laden to change that, but it has added poignancy to Saturday's run. When Holbrook learned of bin Laden's death, he thought of Shane Ahmed, a former Ohio State student who died last November in Afghanistan.
"I was like, 'Shane, we got him,'" Holbrook said. "It was very emotional for me."
The appearance of Rucking 4 Change will provide an opportunity for spectators to show their gratitude.
"I definitely think the reaction will be a little more intense as far as the appreciation and everything," Holbrook said.
That support is appreciated because soldiers aren't often in the public spotlight.
"I expect it to be a little overwhelming at the end," said Kirker, who lives in Grove City. "It's hard not to get emotional when people tell you how much pride they have in you being a soldier and representing our country."
The encouragement also is helpful in getting through the race. Their rucksacks, which contain such items as an extra pair of boots, sleeping bag, change of clothes, liters of water and body armor, weigh a minimum of 35 pounds. Davis said his will weigh about 55 pounds.
"There's times, especially when you hit the 7-mile mark and you start cramping up that you're like, 'Man, why did I put all this weight in here?'" Davis said. "But when you're done, it's great to drop that weight and say you did it."
The hardest part of the course, they said, is German Village because of the many bricks streets.
"The cobblestone is a killer in your boots," Kirker said. "The first year, we had a couple guys sprain their ankles. You feel like a deer on a frozen pond. It's pretty rough."
The satisfaction of finishing and the reception along the way make it well worth it. Davis, who has been in the military for 16 years, said being part of Rucking 4 Change ranks among the most rewarding of his experiences.
For Holbrook, who had three deployments in Iraq, the reception is a tonic for the isolation soldiers can feel while on duty.
"Whenever you're sitting in Iraq and you're upset because you talk to someone at home and it seems no one seems to know there's a war going on, that can be frustrating at times," he said.
"When you get to participate in this event, (you realize) people do care. Maybe they don't remember every day what we're going through, but whenever they see us (as Rucking 4 Change), they'll walk across the street to tell you, 'Hey, we really appreciate you.'"
Ah, the "Ruck", both a pain in the ass to haul around the woods with you on your back, but also your only haven of civility sometimes in the wild where you can get a clean pair of undies, some pogie bait or maybe even a paperback to read (if you have the time of course). The ruck of my day was the "ALICE" ruck (pictured above in the large flavor..) that was originally developed at the end of Vietnam. It consisted of the bag and a rigid aluminum frame to help distribute the weight. It was big enough to carry more than you needed (and you need to carry everything in your pack) if you knew the "secret" way of folding your stuff.
"Rucking" reminds me of another term that sounds vaguely sexual too...."humping"..the act of walking about humping a ruck on your back all day, intended to mean a remorseful and painful act with all the weight you carry.
(Sung to the Wizard of Oz tune "If I Only Had a Brain")
Dressed up like the flowers
Humpin' hills all day
But my feet they are a achin'
As my back begins to breakin'
Because I'm just a leg