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First Air Force Marathon

As we approach the 20th Air Force Marathon, it is only natural to look back at where we’ve been.  Our first race was the start of something USAF Marathon Patch 1997special and runners have come back year after year to celebrate what makes our race unique but the first field of runners had no idea they would be the initial entrants into what has become a huge event.  Below is the story of the first Air Force Marathon courtesy of the 88ABW History Office.


When the Air Force began celebrating its 50th Air Force anniversary, it was the only military service that did not sponsor a marathon.  This situation ended on 20 September 1997 when Wright-Patterson Air Force Base hosted the first U. S. Air Force Marathon.  The inspiration for the event came from Captain Tim Collins and Major Teri Collins, a married couple, assigned to the 74th Medical Group.  Avid marathon runners, they proposed that Wright-Patterson host a marathon as part of the 50th anniversary festivities.  Lieutenant General Kenneth E. Eickmann, the ASC commander, endorsed the idea as an opportunity to promote physical fitness and gain public relations benefits.  The Air Force Chief of Staff approved the proposal on 13 February and planning went into high gear.


A Marathon Steering Committee working with the 88th Support Group’s Services Division oversaw the planning and conduct of the event.  Planning began in February and drew heavily from lessons learned from the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon.  Denise Bollinger and Major Teri Collins served as marathon coordinators.  Under the committee’s guidance, advertising and a world-wide web site were created to keep people informed and advise runners on training techniques.  The committee raised and organized an army of volunteers to support the marathon and assist it with the mountain of logistics requirements that had to be overcome.  It funded the marathon through donations, entry fees, and the Wright-Patterson MWR Fund.  An Air Force Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentality was established so the Marathon could be operated as an Air Force rather than a base program.  A four-tiered sponsorship program generated $69,000 in cash and another $83,000 in services.  The committee also designed a marathon logo.


The committee laid out the 26.2 marathon course and, at General Eickmann’s urging, had U.S. Track and Field certify it.  The starting line was at the U.S. Air Force Museum.  Runners then traversed historic Wright Field enroute to the Wright State University campus.  From there, they went to historic Patterson Field where they passed AFMC headquarters.  The course looped the runway and the historic Huffman Prairie Flying Field before returning runners to Wright Field.  Enroute to the finish line at the museum, runners passed through the museum’s static aircraft display.


Dr. Sheila Widnall, the Secretary of the Air Force, christened the 26.2 mile course by riding the circuit on a mountain bicycle accompanied by 88 ABW security forces prior to the start of the race.  The race itself was delayed thirty minutes due to a massive traffic jam created by competitors and spectators who decided to arrive just before the starting time.  The 2,751 entrants represented all military services, 48 states, and 8 foreign countries.  Air Force Materiel Command’s 359 runners was the largest Air Force contingent.  Supporting the race were the 2,000 volunteers who helped man water and aid stations at every mile post along the course.  A force of 10,000 spectators provided moral support to the runners.


FHPTM-2 Photo VII-210Over 1,600 competitors completed the race.  The first to cross the finish line was Christopher Rodney, 21, a Sinclair College Student from Beavercreek, Ohio.  Rodney won the wheelchair competition in his very first marathon with a time of 2:20.  Andrew R. Herr, a 32-year old economics professor from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was the first runner to complete the course.  His winning time was 2:28:34.  SSgt Lori Eppard, representing the 88th Air Base Wing’s Staff Judge Advocate’s office, won the female competition with a time of 2:55:04.  SSgt Eppard finished 21st overall.  The first male military finalist was Mark T. Cocuzzella of the U.S. Air Force Academy.  Lieutenant General Eickmann finished 653rd overall with a time of 4:12:59.  The “Flea Trainers” (Jeffrey R. Kuzma, Christopher Lindhurst, Andrew M. Meehan, and John S. Mizell, all Air Force Academy graduates) won the Ekiden Relay with a time of 2:28:20.  The oldest competitor, at the age of 78, was Edward Burnhan of Kansas City who completed the race in 5:48:54.  Perhaps the most inspirational runner was Larry Smith, a blind 59-year old Dayton resident, who ran a segment of the Ekiden Relay with the aid of a guide.  The honor of being the last runner to complete the race went to Bonnie Ketterman, a 41-year old resident of Prattville, Alabama, who completed the marathon in 8:05:30.  All 1,660 marathon finishers and the 908 relay team members received commemorative medallions portraying the Wright Flyer.  Awards were also presented to the numerous category winners.  Fourteen people failed to complete the course and 169 did not show up for the race (aircraft problems presented some West Coast teams from participating).