While 30,000 runners are winding their way through the streets of Washington this morning in the Marine Corps Marathon, one man will be completing his 26.2-mile journey in a far different location.
Lt. Col. Steve Grass, 37, will run the race remotely from the Kirkush Military Training Base in eastern Iraq. Grass, the deputy base commander who has spent 161/2 years in the Marines, has run the marathon twice, in 1997 and 2004. It was a year ago that he promised his good friend and fellow Naval Academy graduate John Guandolo that he would run this year's Marine Corps Marathon to help raise money and awareness for Destination Cure -- the Race Against MS. Guandolo founded Destination Cure in 1998 in honor of his mother, who died from multiple sclerosis in 2000. Grass's mother also suffers from the disease.
But before he could fulfill his promise, Grass was deployed to Iraq to work with military training teams that are advising the Iraqi army.
"I made a commitment to John to help him with his charity last year," Grass wrote in an e-mail. "I knew he wouldn't let me off the hook with the flimsy excuse of being over here. I consider myself fortunate, as there are many over here that don't have the luxury to run, much less do this type of thing."
Grass will run his marathon around the perimeter of the training base, about a five-mile loop on a course that is mostly gravel and sand.
"I'll have water points at the start and the 2.5-mile mark, and, of course, there will be the Iraqi tower guards to cheer me on every couple hundred meters," Grass wrote. "So, five laps and some change, and I'll be done."
Grass, who is based at Quantico, where his wife and three daughters live, won't be going it alone. Lt. Col Don Mosman and Lt. Col. Tammy LaFrancois, two Army soldiers stationed at Kirkush who helped Grass train for the race, will be out there supporting him in his goal.
"They and some other Army guys here have formed a relay team to run with me," Grass wrote. "There are rumors that a few may go the whole distance."
Grass is one of 50 people running the Marine Corps Marathon for Destination Cure. His mother, Alice Grass of Flowery Branch, Ga., was stricken with the debilitating disease in 1970.
"She is stoic and certainly never let this disease affect the way she raised and supported her family," Grass wrote. "She would be embarrassed by the attention and feels that the effects of the disease on her life have been minor compared to those suffered by others with the illness. I believe that her attitude toward life is akin to that required for an event like this."
-- Kathy Orton