Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Story behind Marine Mud Challenge

For Aaron Harper, raising money to help families of wounded Marines and sailors is near and dear.

Nineteen years ago, he was one of them, a young Marine injured when an Iraqi rocket blew up near him just as Operation Desert Storm, the first war with Iraq, was beginning to unfold.

In his haste to grab his gear and seek cover, Harper ruptured a disc in his spine that unleashed a degenerative condition requiring 12 surgeries on his back. During those surgeries, his mother and sister wanted to help, and made visits from upstate New York to the hospital at Camp LeJeune.

"It was very expensive for them to come down," he said. At 23 in 1993, the Marines granted him a medical retirement.

That is why he helped organize the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Greater Charlotte, a group that hosts fundraising events for organizations that help families of the wounded and injured.

Last Saturday, they put on their third annual Marine Mud Challenge (see photo above, courtesy of Treasured Events of Charlotte), a 5.5-mile obstacle course with mud pits that gave participants a glimpse of what it's like to train as a Marine.

More than 500 paid $25 each to run the course, all but 10 percent civilians. You may have seen photos of the event in this space earlier this week. The runners, in teams of four, were mostly from the Charlotte region, but some came from as far away as New Jersey. The event is patterned after a similar mud challenge at Camp Pendleton in California.

It was held at Belmont Abbey College, much of it along Brother Paul's cross-country trail. The runners were told there were 30 obstacles, but there were really 36. "We wanted to show the runners a little of what it's like to train as a Marine," Harper said. "They're always throwing in more obstacles than advertised."

The course included two mud pits, including one 700 feet long. Yet because of the rains last week, Brother Paul's trail had turned to mud.

The 500 runners were down from 600 last year.

"Probably because of the obstacles we added this year," Harper said. The council brought in Marines to "yell at -- I mean motivate -- the runners. They chewed on them."

But they still took in about $30,000. After bills are paid, they'll be sending nonprofits here and in the Camp LeJeune area about $24,000 to help families of wounded warriors. Some of the money will be kept locally for former Marines struggling financially.

"When a Marine or sailor is convalescing, they can't leave to go to their families," Harper said. "The families have to go to them. Some can't afford it and can't go. So this money goes for a real good cause."