Pittsburgh Marathon provides military with little slice of home

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The idea of running eight kilometers, let alone the execution of it, is difficult enough for most people to imagine.

This weekend, for American military serving in Turkmenistan, it will be an escape, a small slice of home for those living in one of the more isolated areas in the world.

In conjunction with the American 300 Foundation, a non-government organization that sponsors activities aimed at motivating and honoring service members, the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon will be hosting a First Wave Run Sunday in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

"Events like this help further that connection between the United States and our overseas diplomatic relations by bringing something as wholesome as a U.S. running race to not only service members," said Rob Powers, the founder of the American 300 Foundation. "It's peace through diplomacy and in this case peaceful relations through a great event like the Pittsburgh Marathon."

The American 300 Foundation has conducted First Wave races around the world since 2009 and this is the first time in four years it will be working with the Pittsburgh Marathon.

This year, the race will start and finish at the United States Embassy compound in Ashgabat, but according to Powers, 90 percent of the race will take place in the city's streets. In addition to the service men and women taking part in the event, U.S. ambassador Robert Patterson, a Greensburg native, will also be running, along with select Ashgabat residents.

Pittsburgh Marathon officials see the 8K race as an effort to do whatever they can to help American soldiers.

"It's our acknowledgement and our support of the U.S. citizens who are working abroad who are working to defend, protect and represent the United States," Pittsburgh Marathon director Patrice Matamoros said. "To us, the benefit is also just doing goodwill and bringing different regions of conflict sporting events and activities."

The race will be yet another event in what has become Powers' mission to help empower the nation's troops. A former U.S. Army service member in the 1980s, Powers went on to become a ski coach for the U.S. Olympic and world championship teams.

Over that span of time, though, two of his military mentors were killed in the line of duty. Those losses prompted Powers to ask himself a series of questions that helped lead him to his life's work.

"I basically said, 'What can I do to help increase the overall morale, resiliency, our diplomacy efforts, and how can I help our country?' " Powers, who will be emceeing the event, said. "So out of that was born the mission of increasing the resiliency of our troops, our service members and the areas in which they live and operate."

By bringing "a slice of Pittsburgh to them," as Matamoros phrased it, Powers and other officials can do for those abroad what they do for those who will participate in the actual marathon May 5 -- bring them a sense of joy and passion they maybe would not get otherwise.

"It's something that pumps them up," Matamoros said. "We heard time and time again the first time we went about how much it meant to the service men who are serving abroad that they had a slice of home. It's just something that's near and dear to their hearts."

sportsother - outdoors

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @craig_a_meyer.


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