Death March

April 9, 2018 at 11:32 pm | Posted in God's race | 1 Comment

 

By Juel A. Fitzgerald

It was a small dream conjured up five years earlier.  It was discarded as too risky to do alone.  With feet in gortex hiking boots and gaiters, head and neck shielded by special head-gear, wicking long sleeves and pants protected arms and legs, CamelBak full of water, food and gear and hiking sticks strapped to CamelBak, one foot in front of the other traversed the 26.2 miles of the Bataan Death March with three friends on the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This marathon was different from the five done before.  We were reminded frequently, “it’s more than a marathon – it’s a memorial.”  In April 1942, it is estimated that about 75,000 American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula were marched by the Japanese 65 miles to prison camps. Thousands died from heat, beatings, starvation, disease, and bayonets. This short 26.2-mile march was a memorial for that event.  Three survivors attended the opening ceremony of the race.

Upon arriving for this endeavor in the desert, it was learned that there was no participant’s medal.  Medals were for first and second place finishers in each category.  Dog tags were our medals.  What?  Race registration, air fare, equipment, time spent in training were expended for a marathon with no medal?  It took a few minutes of prayer for me to wrap my head around what I had walked into.  God helped me to see, if I had been in the original Bataan would I have wanted a medal for surviving when others had not?  Praises to God for surviving was more than enough!  Same for this memorial march – praises to God for surviving was more than enough!

Three days were spent in acclimation to the altitude and dry heat. The first and second days were in the high 80’s, and third day in high 70’s.  I loved every bit of that hot dry heat.  A short 2.49-mile hike in the mountains with an elevation gain of 364.1 to 5,927 feet above sea level was higher than the highest point on the Bataan.  During the climb my lungs fought for breath harder than usual.  I wondered, is it going to be like this on the march?  Hiking back down was refreshing.

The march started at 7 a.m.  However, our category was released a little after 8 a.m.  The march started in 57-degree temperatures.  It ended somewhere in the mid/upper 70’s.  With gaiters in my CamelBak, I hoped I didn’t need them.  I felt like I was overdressed as it was with all that I had trained in.  However, after seeing others in what they had on, I wondered if maybe I should have my gaiters on at the start.  I knew the first few miles were on asphalt so, gaiters could wait if I really needed them.  It didn’t take long to decide to put them on.  Walking off the pavement into the sand, dirt and rock meant particles flew everywhere and down into shoes or boots.  Soon after three miles, my boots were emptied of brown matter and gaiters covered tops of boots.  No more ground stuff was getting in.

Over 8,300 signed up for this march.  None of us were ever alone.  No matter where we were in the pack, there were marchers everywhere, walking, resting, drinking, eating, laughing, talking, singing, dancing/marching to music, moaning, gasping, sweating, changing socks, repairing damaged feet and being carted off in dune buggies.  Only a small few ran the entire race.  It was a march, not a run.

God gave me three to march with.  The fastest one walked away into the river of humanity and wasn’t seen until the end.  The other two, I walked 18 miles with.  On inclines a distance would always grow between us, because I love climbing hills.  Despite the distance, we were always in eye sight.  I would wait at the top of the long ascents and take advantage of the potty and water breaks.  Through those 18 miles I waited for it to get harder.  It was slower and a rougher terrain than I normally do on a marathon, but the distance was the same.  The forecasted wind never came.  A sand storm would not have been fun.  The miles drug on, but the beauty of the mountains, blue sky, poppies, land, scrubs and nature made the march not seem so long.

This was the most supported marathon for me.  Besides the water stations and latrines, many of the later water stations also had bananas and oranges.  At mile 14 we could buy hamburgers or hot dogs and other assorted salty snacks.  In addition to my peanuts, two peanut butter sandwiches, water and Nuun water, these were added nourishment that kept me moving.  A minister once told me the second half of my races were faster than my first half.  Normally that is the case, not sure if that would happen this time.

At mile 18, I lost my two companions.  I waited at the top of a particularly long up and down roller coaster incline.  I waited.  I waited.  Did they pass me while I was in the latrine?  How would I know?  I waited.  I had to move on alone with God.  I had no idea where they were.  I knew one had been treated once for blisters and they were getting worse with each mile.  Had either or both been picked up and taken to the finish line?  I prayed to God, “alone with you, let’s finish this race”.  All these miles my walking sticks remained strapped on my pack.  I started to wonder if they would get used at all.  There didn’t seem to be a need to use them.  I felt great!  So different, then I had planned – a dangerous hot walk in the desert, it was not.  I wondered, if when, I would struggle.  It was taking longer but enjoyable.  Now alone, I had no one to talk to through the miles, except God and the occasional other marchers for a minute or two.

At Mile 22, I posted on Facebook that God and I walked alone.  At that point, I felt a certain kind of way that I can’t explain.  I wasn’t quite right, but in an unusual way.  I went into the latrine.  Every bodily waste in my body that wanted to come out, came out.  Wow!  What the heck?  Bent over I rested.  Then something said – “time for the sticks”.  It was difficult to release them from the pack, but they came off.  I was beat!  My CamelBak of water was empty.  One of my Nuun bottles was empty and the other was half full.  Four miles, I needed more liquids in my pack to finish. I had passed the water station to get to the latrine which was maybe 500 feet in the wrong direction.  I had to walk back to the water station before moving on.  Both bottles were refilled and Nuun added.

As I looked towards those last four miles with sticks in hand, something crazy happened. A burst of energy filled my entire body.  Oh my gosh!  Somebody must be out there praying – exhaustion was gone!  Sticks, legs and arms went into motion.  Passing people and getting this done was what this was now all about.  I prayed for my three partners out there to be ok.  I knew from texts that my fastest partner was a constant two miles ahead of me.  My other two partners I hadn’t heard from.  I prayed for their safety.  On and on my sticks, legs and arms sped.  This was crazy!  I didn’t stop, only grabbed water and bathroom break, as I sped past the last water station.  I didn’t even drink the Nuun water in my pack.  The adrenaline was so high, that stopping was not an option.  I was planning to change socks a second time, but I had long past that stop.  Getting to that finish line was all that matter now!  I felt like a roadrunner.  During these last four miles, others were in slow motion struggling to get done.  Where was that finish line? It seemed to take forever!  Then I saw pavement in the distance.  Pavement marked the start of the end! When my boot hit that pavement, I grabbed both sticks and slapped them into my right hand and marched the rest of the way without them.  Someone cried out a cheer for me.  I smiled, and that same person cheered something positive about me smiling in those last minutes.  With eyes fixed on the finish line and tears trying to come, I thought, “oh my gosh, I am about to finish another marathon!  Thank you, Jesus!”

All that indoor training and pain had proven to be so worth it!  I suffered much in the training, boredom, blisters, had to buy new hiking boots because of the blisters the other boots did to my feet, bought new hiking socks, bought gaiters, special protective head-gear, trained using sticks that were so awkward to use, trained alone, trained with friends; I was never so glad to be done with training as I was for this race.  With God, it all worked out for the best in the race, no blisters, no injuries, no heat exhaustion, no sun burns, just the normal soreness after a race because of torn muscles.  With only two days of soreness, my body was back to normal like I had never walked 26.2.  If it weren’t for pictures I might think I dreamed that march.  No medal, just dog tags among my other marathon medals.

I finished in 9 hours and 17 minutes.  My fastest partner finished in 8 hours and 29 minutes.  My other two partners finished in 9 hours and 50 minutes.  God revealed to me and my two walking partners that God needed us to be alone with him.  I had to be apart from them while they both memorialized a dad/grandfather who had died less than a year before the race and a step grandfather who had died in the Bataan. That special moment in the desert without me there was meant for them to endure through together as mother and daughter.

A walk in the desert with God, a time for praises and thanks for the journey not normally taken.  A time to appreciate what He put me through to get me here.  A time to reflect on what it truly means to walk with Him every day as I step one step closer to my place by his side in heaven.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  I Corinthians 9:24-27.

(NIV translation)

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©2018 Juel A. Fitzgerald.  You may send this entire devotional to whoever you chose with this copyright line.  Feel free to read any devotionals at http://www.heartemissions.wordpress.com, leave messages or subscribe to receive future postings in your e-mail.

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1 Comment »

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  1. I’m crying. Praise God. Thanks for sharing.


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