Why I Run: Summerlin takes strides to honor military vets

One in a series leading up to the Pittsburgh Marathon

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Somewhere between the exhaustion and heavy breathing on a five-hour training run, a thought popped into Jamie Summerlin's mind. He had been a distance runner for about a year, but he was ready to take a leap of faith for a worthy cause.

Summerlin got home and pitched the idea to his wife -- he wanted to do something "extreme" for military veterans like themselves, both former Marines. How extreme? A run across the country.

"We had the so-called 'perfect life' -- the jobs, the home, kids, cats and dogs, and I just thought there was something missing," Summerlin said. "I needed to do something to help support my brothers and sisters in uniform and those that served."

Take a five-minute trip along the Pittsburgh Marathon course

Luke Mohamed offers a runner's perspective of the 26.2-mile course for this year's Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. (Video by Steve Mellon; 4/24/2013)

Ultimately, he made good on that pledge. Over 100 days, he ran 3,452 miles across 16 states and the District of Columbia., averaging 34.5 miles per day with no breaks or days off. Two years and four months after completing his first marathon, Summerlin became the 48th person to complete a coast-to-coast run.

The trek culminated about two years of training for him and a year of planning by his wife. It began in Sunset Bay, Ore., and concluded in Rehoboth Beach, Del., ending with a 100-mile run from Annapolis, Md., in under 24 hours.

Along the way, Summerlin stopped at VA hospitals, VFWs, recruiting stations and Army National Guard facilities, among other places, taking any opportunity he could to thank military veterans and active military personnel.

"We went in to hospitals to talk to vets and just let them know that every step I was taking was to honor them, to let them know they were the true heroes of the story," Summerlin said.

"For me, it was a very fulfilling and life-changing experience because I got to see the look on their faces when I would just say 'Thank you.' I knew how much it meant to me when someone would tell me thanks when I served in the Marine Corps. It puts a smile on your face because you know you're appreciated."

Summerlin helped raise $50,000 for military groups the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Welcome Home, a nonprofit organization based in Morgantown, W.Va. This week, he released a book, "Freedom Run," that detailed his cross-country experience. More information on his ventures can be found at freedomrunusa.com.

He will continue raising awareness for veterans and active military members when he participates in his first Dick's Sporting Good Pittsburgh Marathon May 5. Summerlin's recent schedule has become inundated by races that range from half Ironmans to 100-mile races. This weekend, he is flying to Arizona to run 50 miles from one rim of the Grand Canyon to another and back in what he calls a "rim-to-rim-to-rim run."

While running here, Summerlin will continue to honor and try to inspire service members one stride at a time.

"It's something to show that, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything, and that's what we really wanted to encourage our vets to understand," Summerlin said. "Every day, it's a fulfilling set of steps that I take to honor those men and women."

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Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @craig_a_meyer. First Published April 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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