Eight local women teamed up on Memorial Day weekend to run and raise funds for charities.
Their goal, to complete the 260-mile challenge in 36 hours, required a well-trained team that had the will to run day and night. The course began in Savannah and ended in Columbus.
The team fought hard against the odds to complete its mission and raised more than $6,000.
Despite having different backgrounds and training styles, the women began coming together in February. It took time to develop the team, and each had to be a current or prior military spouse.
Lori Hunter, who is new to Richmond Hill, spearheaded the recruiting, and soon she and her friends had developed a team roster. The 2016 3rd Infantry Division Game Changers Team originally consisted of Tara Baraniak, Lori Hunter, Abby Hunter, Nicole Cahill, Sandra Reyes, Lyza Bowers, Laura Klink and Amy Upshaw.
Upshaw had to bow out just a few days before the run because of unforeseen circumstances and an ankle injury. This left the team facing the challenge of finding a well-trained runner who met the military-spouse requirement and who was willing to drop everything for the challenge on short notice.
This is where local runner Pamela Howe came in. Howe is a 50-year-old avid runner who recently completed the Boston Marathon and heads up the "Pacing with Pam" Tuesday night run group at Georgia Game Changers Running Co.
"The Run for the Flag is a 260-mile run in honor of those people who have championed the American spirit," according to an explanation on runacrossgeorgia.com. "The Run for the Flag has along its course 260 American flags decorated with the faces and stories of some of those great Americans on each flag. These honorees are representing our beneficiaries from the House of Heroes, Make-a-Wish Georgia and Camp Abilities."
Besides running, the team had to raise money. Each runner committed to individual efforts to raise funds for one of three designated charities. Many from Richmond Hill did their part to help the 3rd ID Game Changers.
On May 15, the team and Georgia Game Changers hosted a 5K fundraiser at J.F. Gregory Park. The Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Business After Hours at Plantation Lumber and donated portions of a 50/50 raffle to the team. Rebecca Sweeney of Flourish Yoga hosted a donation-only Yoga and Margaritas Night, with proceeds adding to the team’s total.
Each runner was set to run a designated leg. These legs were distributed based on skill level and training. With a plan in place, the team could not have predicted that it would be plagued with more injuries and other obstacles throughout the 260-mile course.
Abby Hunter tried pushing through the pain on one of her 7-mile legs.
"She couldn’t run it because she was having problems with her shin," Tara Baraniak said. "She had to walk the whole thing. She did not want to stop, as that meant the next runner would have had to do hers as well."
But her injury was much worse than she originally thought — a fracture near the tibia and a stress-fractured ankle. So the team was down a runner, which meant mileage went up and rest time went down for the remaining seven women. Backing out as a team was not an option, but the squad decided to transition into a non-competitive category and push on to finish.
"In 37 hours and 45 minutes, we did all our mileage. Whoever was healthy ran; all mileages and plans were changed throughout based on the circumstance," Baraniak said. "We finished, and this was the neatest thing I’ve ever done. We are hoping to have a team next year, but we know more about the race and could be better prepared. It is for such a great cause."
Baraniak said the runners’ effort would not have been possible without the support of their crew and pace-car team. Baraniak credited Ron Elliott, Kyle Anderson, Ian Hunters and Hunter Bowers with working tirelessly to ensure safety and support for the runners throughout the trek across Georgia.