Some 2,500 years ago in Greece, a messenger named Pheidippides is said to have run 25 miles back to Athens to announce news of the Greek victory over the invading Persians at the Battle of Marathon, the word “marathon” thus entering the language when the feat became part of the ancient Olympic Games.
According to the story, Pheidippides yelled “Nike!” (Greek for “Victory”) before he collapsed from exhaustion and died.
On Monday, a Marine Corps veteran called to mind Pheidippides’ unyielding will to finish his mission.
Micah Herndon of Tallmadge, Ohio, was running the Boston Marathon to pay tribute to three men who were killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.
Herndon turned to running after the events of that fateful day killed his Marine brothers-in-arms Mark Juarez and Matthew Ballard along with embedded British journalist Rupert Hamer, yet miraculously spared Herndon’s own life when the roadside bomb his vehicle tripped had a malfunctioning blasting cap, detonating with less than its full lethal potential, according to the Record-Courier of Kent, Ohio.
After coming home from the war, difficulty adjusting to civilian life plus survivor’s guilt were ever-present challenges for Herndon.
“I went from being in a war zone one day to trying to live a normal life the next day,” he said, according to the Record-Courier. “We were going on three or more missions a day, constantly on guard and when I got back home, I was still in that mode. I never will be able to get over it, I don’t think, but I am coping.
“I am trying to get rid of the demons.”
One thing that helped put the demons at bay was running, and Herndon took up the sport with the elan of a platoon of recruits in basic training at Parris Island.
However, rather than the often bawdy cadences that accompany Marines on a run, Herndon’s cadence is simple: “Juarez, Ballard, Hamer,” over and over, whether he’s running a 5K or a marathon.
“I run in honor of them,” Herndon said, according to the Record-Courier. “They are not here anymore. I am here, and I am able. I am lucky to still have all my limbs. I can still be active. I find fuel in the simple idea that I can run. Some cannot.
“I feel like if I am not running, then I am doing something wrong with my life. If I get a heat cramp while running or my feet hurt or I am getting exhausted, I just keep saying their names out loud to myself. They went through much worse, so I run for them and their families.”
At Boston, the three fallen men gave Herndon the strength to crawl over the finish line.
— Dana Giordano (@dana_gio6) April 15, 2019
As he was nearing the end of the 26.2-mile race, Herndon’s body gave out. He fell to the ground as other runners raced past him in elation at their own accomplishment of finishing the Boston Marathon.
And in a moment inspired by angels from his past, Herndon dragged his body over the finish line, fulfilling a promise made to himself and those for whom he runs.
— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) April 15, 2019
Herndon’s final time was a very respectable 3:38 — even if the last few feet felt less like the end of three hours, 38 minutes and more like 40 days and 40 nights.
Nike, Semper Fi and well-done, sir.
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