Casey Owens completed his first marathon yesterday, which is always a tremendous accomplishment. But it was especially so for Owens, who just over a year ago was injured in an antitank mine explosion in Iraq. As he crossed the Marine Corps Marathon finish line, the 24-year-old Marine corporal from Houston was mobbed by well-wishers, including Marine Commandant Michael Hagee.
"It went great," Owens said. "It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, a lot more enjoyable. I couldn't imagine a better marathon."
Owens was the first Marine in a wheelchair to cross the finish line. Because he forgot to wear his timing chip, he did not receive an official time; however, he estimated that he finished in 2 hours 32 minutes. Not bad for a guy who hadn't used a handcrank chair until a month ago.
"Pushing myself around in a wheelchair that was my training, and being a Marine," said Owens, who had his left leg amputated below his knee and his right leg amputated above his knee.
Owens was one of 50 wheelchair competitors -- 35 handcrank chairs, 15 traditional wheelchair -- in yesterday's race, the largest turnout in Marine Corps Marathon history. (Handcrank chairs are not officially recognized in the Marine Corps Marathon results.) Last year, only seven wheelchairs competed. The significant increase was due in part to the large number of military personnel injured in Iraq or Afghanistan who competed yesterday.
Owens was part of a group from the Semper Fi Fund, which provides supplemental assistance to injured Marines and their families. Freedom Team, sponsored by Achilles Track Club, also had several injured military personnel in the race, including amputees who ran the race with prosthetics.
Doug Hayenga, a 22-year-old Marine sergeant from St. Cloud, Minn., flew in from San Diego yesterday morning for the race, arriving at Dulles International Airport at 5 a.m. On just two hours of sleep, Hayenga completed his first marathon in a handcrank chair in 3:31.
"I pushed myself," he said.
Hayenga, a Freedom Team member, was injured in Fallujah in April 2004. Shrapnel shattered his leg and knee. He also suffered a head injury, which led to memory and balance problems.
Owens, who has been rehabilitating at Walter Reed Military Hospital the past year, started walking about a month ago. He would like to run the marathon next year. But if he can't, he said he would do it again in a handcrank chair.
"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," Owens said. "It was too short. I got to Mile 20 and was like it's going to be over too soon."
Top Wheelchair Finishers
Todd Philpott, 48, of Sydney, also a Team Freedom member, was the first to cross the finish line in a handcrank chair. He finished in 2:12:15. David Swaim, 59 of Wake Forest, N.C., defended his wheelchair title, winning in 2:18:04. Holly Koester, 45, of Cleveland, won the female wheelchair division for the sixth time. Koester finished in 4:06:12.
Many of the wheelchair racers were frustrated by the start of the race. Normally, wheelchairs are sent out first. This year, because of the staggered start, they went out between the two waves of runners.
"It was rougher this year than it was last year," Swaim said. "I hope and pray no one ever does that again. We had a hard time trying to get around the crowd. Unfortunately, I had to push a lot of people out of the way. They got a little aggravated, but it's either that or [run them over]. I'm hoarse from hollering so much."
Said Owens: "I honestly probably would have finished a good 15 minutes faster if it wasn't [for the crowd]. I had to keep coming to a stop. You'd yell, and most people generally moved. But then somebody just wouldn't move, and I'd have to slam on my brakes."
A Decorated Family
Tom Wacker, 46, of Arlington, has made a habit out of giving his Marine Corps Marathon medals to his sons. He has run three marathons and given out three medals to Adrian, 7, Joshua, 4, and Jeremy, 3. Just because he ran out of sons to give his medals to, doesn't mean Wacker stopped running marathons. But it also doesn't mean he gets to keep this medal. Two weeks ago, Adrian told him this year's medal would be for mom. So Wacker's wife, Debbie, gets this one.
"I can't let my son down now can I?" said Wacker, who finished in 4:51.
Will he do another marathon just to get his own medal? "Maybe one more," he said.
Medical Cases Down
Capt. Bruce Adams, Marine Corps Marathon medical director, reported the lightest number of cases he has seen in his eight years with the race. Because of the temperate weather, Adams said there were no heat-related cases. Only 18 runners were transported to area hospitals, mostly for dehydration, chest pain and sprained ankles. . . .
Ryan Schmidt, 24, of Baltimore, won the 8K race in 28:41, just edging second-place finisher Ted Poulos, 43, of McLean, by 15 seconds. Johanna Allen, 24, of Woodbridge, won the female division in 29:36, nearly 21/2 minutes ahead of the second place finisher. . . .
The Navy won the Armed Forces Competition for the first time in the eight-year history of the competition. Air Force has won the most times (four) followed by the Marines (twice). Army's only win came in 2001. Navy Lt. John Mentzer, 29, was the top U.S. male military finisher in 2:24:26. Army Capt. Emily Brozozowski was the top U.S. female finisher in 2:54:58.