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    Zitta: A Runner's Tale

    For some, staying with the pack is just not an option. Always striving to do more and work harder than anyone else is the only way forward. This direction has always been the case for Lt. Duane Zitta.

    "I've always been athletic, but it was not until my adult life that I got into extreme endurance events. Things like marathons, triathlons, ultra-marathons, and ultra-swims, basically anything long distance," Zitta said.

    A marathon is typically known as a race or event approximately 26 miles in length, while triathlon is a multipart race with three continuous and sequential endurance legs. While there are variations, the most common form includes running, biking, and swimming.

    Zitta, a Michigan native, completed his first marathon when tragedy struck. The crew of Coast Guard helicopter 6505 was conducting rescue basket hoist training with Motor Life-Boat 47317 from Coast Guard Station Honolulu when the catastrophic accident occurred. An issue with the hoisting cable caused a severe problem with the helicopter rotor system, which sent the helicopter and the four crew crashing into the Pacific Ocean. All four crew members tragically lost their lives that day.

    At that time, Zitta was stationed at Air Station Detroit on a helicopter rescue crew; the incident hit particularly close to home. He wanted to do something more for the team and their families. What could he possibly do that would benefit them?

    "The Coast Guard has an annual event that celebrates those that have given their lives in the line of duty called Run to Remember," Zitta said. This event struck him as the ultimate way to put something he's good at to better use. "I just wanted to do it for something bigger than myself."

    The Coast Guard Foundation's Run to Remember (R2R) is a worldwide movement that honors Coast Guard heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country. Each year, thousands of people participate in road races, memorial walks, and other types of fitness events to pay tribute.

    "That particular event struck me as an opportunity to use my athletic talents to give back," said Zitta. "All the funds raised at these events, whether by donation, or buying t-shirts, go to the Fallen Heroes Fund, for spouses and children left behind, and can even put them through college."

    After Zitta completed the first event, he contacted the Coast Guard Foundation and began setting up R2R events on his own. "These were smaller events that were for the casual runners and bikers," said Zitta. "After all the success with events like that, I thought there's gotta be something else I can do."

    At the time, Zitta again approached the Coast Guard Foundation and asked if he could do a campaign on his own. Partnering with the already existing R2R event held at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Zitta and six other Coast Guard members ran the event. But, once they completed the R2R course, they continued running to the old Coast Guard station at Virginia Beach.

    "So that was a 36-mile run we did to earn money for the Coast Guard Foundation," said Zitta. "Everybody met us at the station later in the day, and it was that point that I realized not only was it a great fundraising opportunity, but it was a great way to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Also, it is a way to tell families that their loved ones are not forgotten."

    Shortly after that, Zitta transferred to Hawaii. While making his rounds, he met the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team, or as they are more commonly known, HURT. The HURT team does exactly what you may think with a name like that. They do extreme running through the mountains, ridges, and valleys of Hawaii. They host several events throughout the year, one of those is known as the HURT 100.

    "When I moved here, I found out about them, and I got involved with HURT. I started volunteering and running in their events. In 2018, I became the first Coast Guardsmen to complete all of their trail series, which is one race per month. That culminated in being selected to compete in the HURT 100," said Zitta.

    HURT developed its 100-mile trail course and inaugural run in 2001. It's mountainous with thick vegetation is spots, streams and rivers, ridges, mud, and run continuously, so it's dark during parts of the race. It is conducted on trails within the jurisdiction of the State of Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Nā Ala Hele program. Nā Ala Hele has turned traces of pig trails through the rain forest into people-friendly, single-track paths. It started with about 20 runners. Now hundreds of applicants from around the world sign up for the lottery to be chosen to compete. Out of the applicants, the organization selects 125 to run the course, which is said to be the most difficult 100 milers in the world. Most take nearly most or all of the 36 allotted hours to complete the race. Many do not finish. Zitta's time was 26 hours and 45 minutes.

    "I completed that race and finished eighth overall," said Zitta. As amazing as that feat was, what Zitta is most proud of the fact that because of that single campaign, he was able to donate $15,000 to the Coast Guard Foundation. The most substantial amount ever given from a sole entity. "That's really what started it all for me," said Zitta. "I'm just really so proud of what we accomplished with that campaign.”

    "What can you say about Duane Zitta? He's a force of nature. His determination and strength are truly an inspiration to all of us at the Coast Guard Foundation. He's taken the message of hope and support for fallen hero families and shared it with the world." Susan Ludwig, Coast Guard Foundation president.

    If competing in that grueling affair wasn't tough enough, Zitta already had another run in mind. He and a few of his friends went to the Big Island of Hawaii. "We ran from Hilo oceanfront to the summit of Mauna Kea, a 13,800-foot elevation gain, in May. That run took us 11 hours, and we raised $3,500 for the Coast Guard Foundation," said Zitta.

    That run took 11 hours and 19 minutes, which is a very pertinent fact considering Zitta and his friends now hold the record for the fastest known time for that run! He's also run to the summit of Haleakala, gaining 10,023 feet from sea level, on Maui.

    Steamrolling forward, Zitta completed the half Iron Man on the Big Island of Hawaii. "It was shortly after that I found out I was selected to compete in Kona," said Zitta.

    The 2019 Iron Man World Championship is held annually in the fall on the big island of Hawaii. A real test of mind, body, and spirit. On Oct. 12, over 2,000 participants, including Zitta, took the challenge to earn the title of Ironman by completing the 140.6-mile journey running, biking and swimming.

    Zitta was thrilled to gain permission from senior leadership to carry the Coast Guard flag across the finish line.

    "I could not have been more proud to fly our Coast Guard flag down the finish chute! Every chance I get, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure our Gold Star families are honored, and their sacrifices are always remembered," shared Zitta after the race.

    In 2019, thousands of people came to Honolulu to run the annual marathon. Several Coast Guard members entered the race, and never missing a chance to go the distance was Zitta. During the past months, he encouraged his shipmates and helped several of them train for the marathon and other shorter runs and ocean swim races.

    Spectators were in disbelief when Zitta crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles and kept going. He and a couple of friends ran home to Kailua! A total of 43.9 miles in 7 hours and 17 minutes. However, he wasn't running the marathon like the others were; he used the marathon as an opportunity to train. He will be giving back to the local running community by pacing runners at the HURT 100 in January, helping others achieve their goals while enhancing race safety.

    Zitta's accomplishments are astonishing to anyone, but in the end, his proudest moments have nothing to do with the medals he gains at the finish of every race. It's the families he can help through the Coast Guard foundation's donations that are always on his mind and the reason he keeps pushing forward.

    “I also do all these challenging events to be a positive role model for my children and show them anything is possible,” said Zitta. “My hope is that I inspire them as they grow, and they will become dedicated to something bigger than themselves someday. Michelle, Addisyn, and Ayden are by far my biggest fans; without them, none of what I have accomplished would have been possible.”

    To cap off 2019, Zitta has been named the male Coast Guard Athlete of the Year. He continues to carry his intensity and passion forward, coaching others and continuing his runs to stay in shape and inspire others at all times.



    Date Taken: 04.06.2020
    Date Posted: 04.06.2020 15:56
    Story ID: 366693
    Location: HONOLULU, HI, US 
    Hometown: LAKE ORION, MI, US

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    Downloads: 1