Mar 282011
 
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer

On Sunday, 34 Air Force and Army cadets from CSU’s Reserve Officer Training Corps traveled to White Sands Missile Range to compete in a different kind of marathon than you’ll find on the streets of Boston or New York.

The 26.2-mile course winds through scrubland arroyos and fields of yucca in a desert landscape so harsh that it was used as the test site for the world’s first nuclear bomb.
Dubbed the “Bataan Memorial Death March,” the race honors the veterans of WWII’s Bataan Death March.

In 1942, American and Filipino forces on the Bataan peninsula surrendered to the Japanese after going months with little food or ammo and no air or artillery support. The soldiers were consequently marched through the malaria-infested jungle for days with little sustenance. Those who couldn’t keep walking were executed immediately.

Fifteen survivors of that march were in attendance at White Sands on Sunday to watch as 6,300 people –– soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and civilians –– marched in the desert heat and dusty wind gusts to honor them.

CSU’s cadets shook hands with history as they marched across the race’s starting line, offering a thank-you to the survivors for their faithful service in defense of our country.

“Shaking their hands feels like they’re passing a symbolic baton representing a tradition of service and sacrifice,” said Cadet Daniel Szczotka, a two-time competitor in the race.

The majority of CSU’s cadets who participated chose to do the marathon in the “Heavy” category, where competitors add the additional challenge of carrying a 35-pound rucksack and wearing their combat uniform, complete with boots.
Dozens of competitors suffering from problems with their footwear could be seen laying outside the medical tents with bloody blisters the size of silver dollars on their feet.
However, competitors in the death march don’t give up easily.

Cadet Jennifer Foster, who ran the course as a traditional marathon, tore the arch of her foot and cracked a bone at the 11th mile when she was accidentally pushed off the trail by another team. Against a doctor’s advice, she continued running the remaining 15 miles, finishing the marathon in just more than six hours.

“I just kept thinking to myself that in all the pain I was experiencing, it was nothing compared to what the real Bataan prisoners experienced for days,” Foster said.

“She never gives up or gives in,” Szczotka added. “Never. She’s a warrior.”

Last year, CSU Army ROTC’s team took first in the nation among 26 ROTC teams, but several of their top competitors encountered race-ending injuries on the course.

“Unfortunately, our teams were plagued by injury throughout the race, which prevented them from maintaining a winning pace,” said Cadet Kenneth Shogry, leader of CSU’s Army ROTC contingent.

“Dehydration, an ankle sprain/possible fracture and hamstring cramps” are what kept the group from performing at 100 percent. “The Ram battalion is extremely proud of these individuals … in completing such a physically demanding event,” Shogry said.

Official results for the Bataan Memorial Death March will posted later this week and can be found at www.bataanmarch.com.

Tech columnist Glen Pfeiffer is a two-time competitor in the Death March. Send feedback to news@collegian.com.

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