Leslie Mayne has turned a family tragedy into a purpose. The founder of Race for a Soldier is amazed how the half-marathon’s mission has resonated and grown each year in participants, vendors, volunteers and reputation.
The event will be held this weekend and span three days with a Prayer Breakfast and the Swing for a Soldier golf tournament on Friday, followed by the 2-mile and half-marathon races on Sunday.
Mayne started the race in 2011 to honor her son, Kyle, who died two years earlier from complications due to post-traumatic stress disorder following an overseas deployment.
With almost one-third of soldiers returning from missions with PTSD and more with traumatic brain injury, Mayne turned the acronym PTSD into something positive: Permission To Start Dreaming.
Race for a Soldier strives to promote awareness, resources and alternative therapies that traditionally aren’t covered.
“It’s something that needs to be talked about and dealt with,” Mayne said. “Resources are there for them. Kyle’s story is not unique but helps make our mission successful.”
Manye said the race is better organized, better supported and better attended every year.
“Everyone has stepped up their game,” she said. “I have a great team to help run it.”
Mayne said she’s grateful to Jeff Bauknecht for the behind-the-scenes organization and to Miguel Galeana of Route 16 Running store in Gig Harbor.
“The race wants to be a great community partner and alert everyone so as not to inconvenience them,” Bauknecht said.
A safe, well-run event brings people back, and the number of entrants has grown each fall.
“This year we have almost 2,000 runners,” Mayne said. “We are gaining in reputation and are 300 percent over the number of soldiers entering than we’ve had in the past.”
The total is expected to increase as the number of troops and brigades join the race.
Police presence, large numbers of volunteers and the community make the race happen, Mayne said.
“I am humbled by the response from people,” she said of the 500 volunteers.
“We see communities coming together in tragedies, but this community steps up with a servant’s heart like no other,” she said. “Gig Harbor should be proud. The generosity is beautiful.”
The Canterwood neighborhood opens its gates for a portion of the half-marathon.
“Many residents are veterans themselves and see the race as important,” Mayne said. “Not many private communities would step up and allow this kind of event. It helps tremendously to minimize traffic around Gig Harbor.”
Corporate and private sponsors have increased their support to help defray costs, Mayne said. Crystal Springs donates water, Cutters Point coffee and CenturyLink donate dog tags and T-shirts, and other sponsors provide additional support.
Each mile has a sponsor, including the 12th mile, hosted by the Seattle Seahawks.
Private donations help pay for soldiers’ entrance fees, as well as 1,000 flags in Canterwood along the route.
Intangibles have set off a ripple effect, growing the race beyond Gig Harbor with many new additions. A second race will start up next year in Colorado Springs, Colo., the home of the Air Force Academy, Mayne said.
Swing for a Soldier, held for the first time this year, will include non-runners. The golf tournament will be held at Eagles Pride at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and more than 100 participants are signed up to play.
“We have shadow runs for soldiers overseas to represent Race for a Soldier,” Mayne said. “Race kits have been sent to soldiers in Afghanistan and the Philippines.”
The funds raised go to help soldiers and their families pay for alternative therapies, including Rainier Therapeutic Riding, All-American Dogs, a canine companion program, Heartbeat Serving Warriors and the USO. Other programs include fly fishing, hiking, kayaking — anything to ease the pain and loneliness soldiers experience when returning with emotional and physical needs to help them integrate back into society, Mayne said.
She added anyone can cheer or participate in the 2-mile event, even if they aren’t seasoned runners.
“Seeing the dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people lining the streets cheering or running, soldiers dressed in gear or T-shirts specially made for the event makes my heart overflow,” Mayne said.
• Two-way traffic will be allowed on 144th Street and Peacock Hill Avenue south to Canterwood Drive, but it will be affected on Sunday morning, so plan accordingly.
• The southbound lane of Crescent Valley Drive will be closed from 7:45 to 10 a.m.
• Vernhardson Street and 96th Avenue will be closed from 7:45 to 9 a.m.
• The northbound lane of Peacock Hill Avenue and North Harborview Drive will be closed from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m.
• Borgen Boulevard between Harbor Heights and Peacock Hill Avenue will be closed from 7:45 a.m. to noon.Lifestyles Coordinator Kim Eibel can be reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_kim.