What do you get when you mix the west Texas hill country with a combination of Team Red, White, and Blue Veterans that love to run? Three days of dirt and rock, laughter and pain. I was invited back to Camp Eagle for the 4th year in a row over the weekend of October 7-9 by Liza Howard, Director of the Team RWB Camp and a Leadville 100 Mile winner. My role was that of a mentor, to share my knowledge and experience with other trail runners and to also get to know them and hear their story. Friday afternoon saw a convergence of Vets arriving from all over the country to our HQ at Camp Eagle, 2 hours west of the big city.
At check-in we were assigned to groups of eight, lodged in different cabins. The cabins faced inwards toward the center of a circle and encouraged introductions and conversation. So, why a trail running camp? Team RWB has always been about enriching veterans lives through physical activity and connecting communities and veterans through such activity. It promotes a sense of family, connecting, engaging each other and the body as well as the mind and this is what a lot of Vets need today. A connection, an external release be it activity or conversation. Those in attendance came from a variety of levels pertaining to running, some looking to do their first trail race, while others were training for an ultra.
The weekend consisted of a variety of clinics. Friday evening there was a night run of a couple of miles with headlamps. A way to shake the legs out and meet and greet. At 7 a.m. Saturday morning, four groups were formed based on the level of fitness. B-Group was my assignment for the weekend. With a jolt of coffee and a quick introduction we headed for the trails and a sunrise run and to discuss our plan for the day. The morning sessions saw us running to points around camp and taking part in Trail First Aid and improving speed on the trail, both valuable to any runner. After lunch there was a core class and a session on Training Schedules.
Saturday night I was honored to show my documentary “12 Million Steps”. The world is small but made even smaller when 2 people told me they had served with soldiers whose names had appeared in the film. Saturday night's bonfire revealed many touching stories. PTSD seems to be the most troublesome part of a Veterans life and many I talked to suffer from it. Many had contemplated suicide until their involvement with Team RWB which resurrected a will and desire to persevere. Many organizations do great things but often you never realize the impact until you experience it in a conversation.
Sunday morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise up near a windmill. Moments like that remind us of the beautiful places that running can take us. A full agenda awaited us as we covered hydration, nutrition, technical uphill and technical downhill running followed by running an obstacle course covering 3 miles. I managed a spot out on the course shouting encouragement to all who ran by. For many, particularly those in the back, this might be the only time they would challenge themselves on such a course. Faces that lacked confidence at the beginning of camp now beamed with it. After everyone finished, the mentors raced. The fast, fast guys were all up front, many half my age, but hey I guess there is always room for a geezer. All in all it was short and painful. Maybe I will stick to trails.
One more early morning run on Monday awaited us. Slowly we made our way through the scrub oak and switchbacks. The confidence level of those in my group had risen to an unrecognizable level. I was like a proud parent and like a parent, it was hard to say goodbye as they boarded buses for the airport. I do not know the adversity they face in their private lives, relationships, and jobs but I sense they have the strength to persevere. In my talk the night before I said that it does not matter how many races you run, if you win, or how fast you are. It does not matter how much money you make or how successful you are. At the end of the day what matters is what you have done for others. When you do that, you win.