Raising Awareness of Military Suicide at 13,185 Feet…Mission Accomplished!
When asked why they would climb a tall mountain, some folks may simply respond, “Because it’s there.” However, a handful of dedicated athletes who conquered Colorado’s Leadville Trail Marathon this past June had a more purposeful response: To educate the public on military suicide. To that end, they certainly had a mountain to conquer, but all they had to do was keep climbing.
What began as a simple conversation over dinner with notes scribbled on the back of a napkin a year ago quickly transitioned into an inspiring idea to raise money for a cause that is near and dear to the heart of retired U.S. Army Colonel Tony Hofmann: military suicide awareness.
“An average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide,” emphasizes Hofmann, who clearly understands that is 22 too many.
This past June, Hofmann, who is now the director of public works for the City of Overland Park, led six active duty Army officers who were willing to compete in a grueling marathon that is not for the faint of heart. This rigorous mountain marathon challenges runners to ascend to the summit along old mining roads and trails, reaching 13,185 feet at its highest elevation–Mosquito Pass–which is nearly two miles above sea level. Although the group never ran together until the actual race day, Hofmann created a 16-week virtual training program for the team.
“This is the highest four-wheel drive accessible trail in the United States under normal conditions,” says Hofmann. “For our team, I created a plan to tackle the altitude based on the heart rate of the slowest person in our group. Our goal was to start and finish the race as a team.”
With Hofmann taking the lead, the other team members included Capt. Heather Bain, Capt. Dan Keyser, Capt. Rick Storm, Capt. Henry Harpen, Capt. Chuck Waters and Maj. Rachel Honderd, all of whom are stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. Acting as hosts and lead cheerleaders were Anita and Tom Schicktanz, with additional moral support from Susan and Jerry Zwack.
The team agreed to begin and end the race together, completing this challenge as a unified group, and despite a few obstacles and struggles along the way, they completed the race in eight hours and four minutes, just 26 minutes under the eight and a half hour race time cut-off. This was truly a remarkable feat, and one of which Hofmann believes the team should be proud.
“They may not have realized it at the time how incredible it was to get everyone, including four first-time marathoners, across the finish line together, but it is a big deal at that altitude,” notes Hofmann, a veteran of numerous running events, including eight Boston Marathon finishes to date. “And I also believe this event serves as a confidence builder for these future leaders.”
Capt. Keyser adds, “Colonel Hofmann was a strong motivational leader for us all, and the event led to me to personally discover a core of emotions I didn’t realize I had.”
Soliciting donations from various organizations and individuals, the group raised just under $8,000 for their cause, which was donated to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a New York-based non-profit that provides direct assistance to veterans.
“We received significant funds from the Kansas City metro area and are very appreciative of all of the support received,” says Hofmann.
With the confidence the team acquired on this mission, Hofmann’s enthusiasm is on full throttle with respect to organizing the event next year with a more ambitious agenda. In 2016, he hopes to assemble a team of eight or nine individuals, hopefully representing each branch of military service as well at least one runner to represent the public they serve.
“It would be nice to have a mix of all services as well as a civilian representative to portray a united effort in a cause to raise public awareness of military suicide,” he says. “And we hope to raise even more money next year.”
For more information on Hofmann’s plans for the 2016 Leadville Trail Marathon fundraiser, contact him at AJHofmann90@gmail.com.