News: Marathon means more than a race, honors fallen heroes
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – A marathon tests runners’ physical and mental toughness. The 26.2 miles push even the most resolved individuals’ focus when faced with the daunting task.
Runners have to find their motivation and remember why they are putting their bodies through the pain. Some participants run for fun, a check off their bucket list, competition or simply the challenge. Then there are those running for something that transcends the individual runner. They run for something more than themselves.
Driven with each step he took and wearing his dark blue Team Kelly T-shirt, Maj. Speros Koumparakis, detachment commander, 9th Communication Battalion, Regional Command (Southwest), finished the Marine Corps Marathon Forward for his fallen friends.
He ran on behalf of Team Kelly. Kathleen Kelly, the sister of 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, organized the team. Robert gave his life while serving in Sangin, Afghanistan, with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, during November 2010. The team raised money for a scholarship in Robert’s name and also supported the Chance Phelps Foundation.
“I worked with and am very good friends with Kathleen,” said Koumparakis, from Martinsville, Va. “Losing her brother was like losing a family member to me.”
Team Kelly is a memorial team that competes in races each year in honor and memory of Robert. Koumparakis jumped at the chance to participate with his teammates even though he is thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.
“Being here in Afghanistan where Robert was killed seemed like a great opportunity to bring awareness to the Marines who lost their lives out here,” said Koumparakis.
The Marine Corps Marathon Forward offered servicemembers the unique chance to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon while deployed to a combat zone. The different scenery was a unique experience for all the runners.
“Running this marathon here is a totally different environment,” said Master Sgt. Edwin Holloway, food service chief, RC(SW), and the marathon’s organizer. “It definitely means a lot to the participants to run while deployed.”
Koumparakis also ran for a number of friends who lost their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“While I ran as part of Team Kelly, I also wanted to remember and honor other former teammates, classmates and friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Koumparakis. “These are a few of the individuals who still inspire me today.”
Koumparakis ran in honor of former classmates, teammates and friends; Sgt. Kevin Balduf, Capt. Patrick Rapicault, Capt. John Maloney, Navy Lt. Michael McGreevy, Maj. Douglas Zembiec and Lt. Col. Kevin Shea.
Honoring his fallen friends was more than enough motivation for Koumparakis to complete the marathon. There was an especially grueling section between mile 17 and 24 where the runners hit various hills.
Koumparakis dealt with the hills, heat and sore legs by staying focused on why he was running.
“There wasn’t a step that went by that I didn’t think about not only Robert, but the friends and teammates who I’ve lost,” said Koumparakis.
Koumparakis was not the only participant running for a cause. Several people could be seen wearing shirts with names of fallen heroes. The names were a public display of their motivation during the race.
“I hope that my little part in running 26.2 miles helps preserve their memories and inspire other people,” said Koumparakis.
After the race, Koumparakis stayed to congratulate the other finishers. Sweat still poured from his body and salt clung to his clothing, but he continued to cheer on the participants after him.
For Koumparakis this was more than a race, more than 26.2 miles and more than a long exercise. He ran for a cause and wanted to share in the celebration with the other runners. He knows thousands of miles away in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., participants wore the same Team Kelly T-shirts to honor his friend.