Just outside of Rocksprings, Texas, 200 people—100 veterans and 100 civilians—gathered over this past Veteran’s Day weekend for a four-day trail-running camp on the banks of the Nueces River. The camp was put on by Team Red, White and Blue, an organization that works to support veterans as they transition from service member to civilian.
A couple years ago, ultrarunner Liza Howard heard an interview with Team Red, White and Blue founder, Mike Erwin. “Mike talked about cognitive psychology through exercise, and how giving veterans access to those kinds of communities could help integrate veterans back into civilian life,” Howard says.
Howard, an “Army brat” herself, contacted Erwin and asked how she could help. She soon became part of the advisory board and put together the plan for the trail-running camp.
This past weekend was the camp’s second year. Since the USO provides a large grant to Team Red, White and Blue, the organization was able to fly in elite runners like Max King, Sage Canaday, Nikki Kimball, and Darcy Africa, among others.
“It’s the easiest call to make,” Howard says, “…to say, ‘We want to fly you here to lead runs and help out.’”
Howard says that the ratio of veterans to civilians must be even for the camp to work since the goal is to connect veterans to civilians and vice versa. “Part of it is putting a face to the military for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a connection,” she says. “And part of the draw of having elites is to pull people in from around the country who want to learn from them.”
Starting on Friday afternoon, participants of all levels arrived at Camp Eagle, checked into their dormitories, and headed out for a night trail run. The next three days alternated small group runs—a four-to-one mentor to participant ratio in each group, “so people can really talk to each other,” says Howard—with talks on topics like nutrition and hill running.
Groups are lead by a combination of a local volunteer who knows the trails, and an elite runner. “We don’t introduce them as champions…that they won this race or that race,” explains Howard. “We want to get the message across that the trail running community is about equals. We all talk to each other. The speed isn’t something that divides us.”
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