Runners ‘pay it forward’ to help wounded warriors

By October 11, 2011Warrior News

By Rob McIlvaine

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 9, 2011) — The 27th annual Army Ten-Miler brought 30,000 registered runners, including 701 teams, from around the world Sunday to compete in one of the largest 10-mile races in the world.

Beginning and ending at the Pentagon, it is produced by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, with all proceeds going to the Army’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation fund.

But more than runners came out to support the nation’s military, although a group of international world class runners came to win for the Warrior Transition Command, and present their trophies to WTC.

The WTC had 50 athletes competing in visually impaired/blind and amputee, push rim/hand cycle categories, but many groups came to spread the word about WTC.

One of those groups, Sports Inside and Out, is an international radio show hosted and executive produced by Coach Charlie Hatcher, who uses his show as a platform for a program called Champions 4 Champions.

Hatcher, who played for the NBA, is a Navy veteran who was named All Navy and All Interservice, went to the Olympic trials in 1969, and during the 1980s became a motivational speaker for the Pro Athletes in Action “Stay in School” Program, which later became the NBA “Stay in School” Program.

“Champions 4 Champions was designed four years ago with guys like Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Ricky Sanders, Billy Joe DuPree from the Cowboys, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett, and of course my stepson Dominique Wilkins, Sam Jones — an Army veteran, my dear friend and co-host of my show,” Hatcher said.

They got together, he said, because everyone was supporting the children of the vets but no one was paying attention to the wounded warriors’ commands.

“We asked ‘who are the facilitators of the wounded warriors,’ and when we found out about the Warrior Transition Command. We didn’t know anything about it. We found out, though, what the brand is and the impact they’re making for our troops all over the world. ”

“So now, the greatest sports legends and actors, over 400, have aligned themselves so we’ll be able to bring in and support through different broadcasts, initiatives and appearances to show what the WTC command is actually about,” Hatcher said.

The United States Army, Hatcher said, is the biggest branch in the service, “they’re the big boys. Now, where they go, everything else goes.”

Hatcher said while he recognizes the sacrifices of all service members, he feels the the United States Army is the vangard of the armed forces.

“So, we’ve made a commitment through our broadcast Sports Inside and Out show with our new partners like Operation First Response who have that same mission statement of helping our wounded warriors,” he said.

He said if people are more aware of what the command does that the WTC will be able to operate a little more permanently.

“They’ve got great leaders like Brigadier General Darryl P. Williams, the WTC commander, who is so supportive of his staff, it’s mind boggling. He’s almost like one of my old teammates,” Hatcher said.

“So, to see where the Army is pushing is where we need to be. So, we’re going on tour to do what we call a full-court press so the command gets the support, because the support of the command, the support of the warriors is only natural,” Hatcher said.

The co-host for today was Walter “Wali” Jones.  He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team in his first NBA season and then played with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I’m proud to be here, proud to serve our country,” said Jones. We’re broadcasting to 77 countries, (through the) Armed Forces Network, (in) Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, with 1.3 million listeners.”

Other famous athletes and stars coming on the day’s broadcast were WNBA Hall of Famer Susan Summers, James “Bone Crusher” Smith who was scheduled to call in from the golf course, and Denzel Washington said he would try to cut away from location shooting to join the show.

“The Army is the tip of the spear for everything. So I think we hooked the caboose up the right engine,” said Hatcher with a smile.

Peggy Baker, founder and president of Operation First Response, who partners with Hatcher, was also scheduled to speak on the show today.

“I got involved (in helping veterans) because my son, Joshua, joined the Army after 9-11. And actually I just wanted to be supportive of what he was doing so I ended up going into Walter Reed in 2003. One of my friends lost a leg so I went in to visit her and walked away knowing there were things, as civilians, we could do for the families. We founded Operation First Response in 2004.

“It changed my life forever. Working with the wounded warriors and their families is amazing. They are amazing,” Baker said.

Her organization, she said, serves nationwide, working with wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center, Walter Reed, Bethesda, and trauma centers. And they help the families, financially.

“We want to be the support system that helps (families) get through that difficult time (when a wounded warrior comes home). Actually, we’ve gone this whole journey with them, so what’s ended up happening is now we realize that once they get out of the military — they med-board out and they go into the civilian world — then the VA benefits … there’s a long gap in time before the VA comes through. So that’s actually where they really need us the most,” she said.

There’s many ways First Response helps, she said. A case worker or social worker or the WTC calls to let them know what the families need, “so we just kick in and help. We try to make it a little bit easier. We have a responsibility as civilians to take care of them. They do that for us … we’re the recipients of their sacrifice,” Baker said.

The mission of Operation First Response is to serve all branches of the nation’s wounded warriors and their families with personal and financial needs. Services are provided from the onset of injuries or illness, throughout their recovery period and along their journey from military life to the civilian world. Financial aid varies as each case is based on individual needs ranging from rent, utilities, vehicle payments, groceries, clothing, and travel expenses.

“We were broadcasting yesterday and we had world-class and Olympian runners from Russia, Nigeria, Kenya and a lady from Turkey who broke the marathon record coming on the show to support the military. I was so proud to be with them because they feel so much about the cause,” Jones said.

Also on yesterday’s show, he said, was Capt. Ivan Castro, who has continued serving on active duty in the Special Forces despite losing his eyesight. He remains active as an athlete and has participated in several long-distance road races.

“He talked with our audience and told how he feels about surviving that and how many operations he had, and how many men he lost over there. When you hear these heroes and he said, ‘I’m not a hero,’ but they protect us and that’s what we’re about.”

Sue Bozgoz, founder of IR4G, “it stands for I Run for God,” said her organization is a team of world-class runners who run for God first and service members second. “God gave them their talent so they honor him first,” said Bozgoz.

Her group ran for WTC.

A Road Runners Club of America certified coach, retired Army officer, war vet, motivational speaker and an All Army Marathoner and track runner, Sue has coached tens of thousands of walkers and runners of all ages and abilities since 1987.

Along with Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Scott and runners Valentina Yergova, Tatyana Posdnyakova and Coach Chuck Hatcher, she teams up to give running advice.

“I used to run with the All Army Team and when I retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2006 I got hit by a semi-trailer. I wanted to focus on qualifying for the Olympic trials but it just didn’t happen that way. I’ve always run marathons, 54 in all, and God just gave me these world-class runners from all over the world,” Bozgoz said.

Running today for WTC was male runner Tesfaye Alemayhu, 27, from Ethiopia who now lives in Antioch, Calif. He came in first today with a time of 47 minutes.

Women runners with IR4G were Terata Dengysa, 31, from Istanbul, Turkey, who came in first. Serkalem Abrha from Ethiopia who came in second, and Tiringo Getachew Shi Feraw, 27, from Ethiopia, who came in third.

Other women runners for IR4G were Tatyana Pozdnyakova from the Ukraine, a world- class master runner, who competed in the 2004 and 2004 marathons in Los Angeles, Calif., and came in first when she was 48 and 49 years old, respectively; and Valentina Yergova from Russia, who came in first in the marathon at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and second at the 1996 Atlanta, Ga., Olympics.

Also helping wounded warriors was Rory A. Cooper, a PhD who works in biomedical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. He also works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He was injured in a training accident in Germany 30 years ago. After getting out, he took his GI Bill and went to college.

“I work on hand cycles, the wheelchair I’m using, and prosthetic limbs. It’s my specialty — technology for veterans and military with disabilities.”

“I’ve done the Army Ten-miler the last four years, done the Marine Corps Marathon three or four times, did the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the Paralympic games, and for the last three years, I’ve been with the veterans at Walter Reed where I coached wounded warriors to run the Army Ten-miler. That’s why I’m here with the WTC today.”

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