On April 18, 2022, approximately 30,000 people will lace up their sneakers, grab their energy gels, and head out to the streets of Boston to run 26.2 miles. Four of those individuals are Derek Melendez, an Army medical recruiter, Jennifer Racine, an Army reservist and high school teacher, Matt James, famous for being The Bachelor, and Mary Vaughn, an Army spouse currently stationed at Ft. Bragg. These four have the distinct honor of being invitational entries sponsored by the John Hancock Non-Profit to run for Team USO. For the 5th consecutive year, the USO is sponsoring a team of runners to represent the organization that gives back so much to the military community.
When asked about his participation in the run, Matt James shared,
“I am thrilled to be running on behalf of the USO because this organization brings such important services to those who sacrifice so much to keep us safe.”
USO President and CEO, J.D. Crouch II, said “The USO is excited to participate in this iconic event with a strong team of runners who have experienced the impact of USO programs and services first-hand.”
Mary Vaughn echoed that sentiment when telling me her first-hand experience with the USO.
“My husband and I had a newborn and were flying for the holidays. Of course the weather caused delays and turned what should have been an easy trip into a major event. The USO in the airport was amazing. They let us spread out so we could sleep, they offered their fridge for baby bottles, and they just allowed us to feel calmer about the chaos than if we would have had to navigate the delay in the airport with everyone else. I can’t thank them enough for that particular trip.”
And that is not the only experience she has had with the USO. While he has since returned and will be cheering her on at the finish line, at the time of our interview, her husband was in Poland and had reported to her that the USO was present there as well. Just knowing that the troops were being taken care of in this time of chaos makes Mary even more proud to run for Team USO.
“I feel honored that they included a spouse on the team. We are the ones at home supporting the members overseas and to feel seen with this invitation to run.”
While she has been running competitively since middle school and has completed several half marathons and Run Across Georgia, this is the first full marathon for Mary. With it being such a famous run, I asked Mary how training for this marathon compared to the marathon deployments that so many families in the military understand.
“No matter the length of a deployment, you always begin it feeling as though it is insurmountable, eternal, and more than you are prepared for. It is overwhelming and emotional and scary. About halfway through, you feel both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of dread that you are ‘only’ halfway through. And at the end, the sight of the finish line is the most welcome relief. But afterwards, you feel a real sense of pride in what you’ve done and you walk away a different, better, and stronger person than you were before you began.”
While I have no desire to lace up my sneakers any time soon and join her in marathon running, I can understand how some people find it to be a source of stress relief and self-care. For those looking to get into it themselves, Mary had some great advice.
“If you have a dream of becoming the type of person who runs for fun, runs for stress relief, or for your health, go get a pair of shoes and head outside. The only way to build up to 26.2 miles is by taking those first steps, so just put one foot in front of the other, run after run, and strive to be 1% stronger each day. And on a practical note, take it slow, stretch often, be safe, get fitted for a solid pair of shoes at your local running store, and fuel your body well.”
And for the rest of us, the ones who walk with a purpose but know their knees aren’t made for running, you can support Team USO and their goal of raising $100,000 by donating at their website. Funds donated go towards programs such as the USO Care Package Program, Military Virtual Programming, and one that I love, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program.