The Dumbass Chronicles: Hobbling Around a Track for Cancer

Updated: April 3, 2013


By Ghengis Ron

In 1999, back before I started looking like the love child of Margaret Cho and Roy “Big Country” Nelson, I was suckered into running for a good cause.

I was a Seaman (E-3) at the time, attending a technical school at Goodfellow Air Force Base, in San Angelo, TX. Every year, the American Cancer Society organizes Relay for Life events around the country to raise money for cancer research. Teams sign up and raise money, and then team members take turns walking around a track for 24 hours straight.

The Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force units at Goodfellow began competing against each other in a “speed division,” because leave it to the military to turn a charity event into a dick-measuring contest.

Petty Officer Struck, a beefy E-6 with a square jaw and a death stare, came up to a group of us after PT to try and get us to run. “The more people we have,” he said, “the more rest we can take. And the better chance we have of beating those damned Marines.”

Fuck it—why not? I signed up. My roommate Nelson signed up too. We were in decent shape. This was going to be cake.

So on a hot Texas evening in May, cancer survivors and old women in purple shirts walked leisurely around a track at Angelo State University. Simultaneously, assholes with short haircuts sprinted past them to the shouts of “Hooah!” and “Oorah!”

My first turn of the night came. Nelson finished his run and handed me the baton, and I took off as fast as I could. I finished two laps in 2 minutes 30 seconds. I handed the baton off to the next runner and lay down gasping.

The team captains scheduled it so that we each had about fifteen minutes of rest between runs. They also made it so that we ran in four-hour shifts. There were three shifts, so it worked out to where I only had to run two four-hour shifts the whole time. Cake.

But that fifteen-minute break ended quickly. My second run was still decent, but I was a little slower.

Then my third run came, and I was slower still.

To make matters worse, people started dropping out. They got tired, so they just quit.

My fifteen minutes of break turned into twelve minutes. Then nine. Then six, at times. People hopped in to help, but the rate of joining in didn’t match the rate of quitting.

111215-f-oc707-319Petty Officer Struck finally showed up.

Great, I thought. Another runner to lighten the load.

“I can’t run tonight,” Struck said. “I hurt my leg practicing kickboxing with my friends.”

It was also becoming clear that I had been had. After leading the pack briefly, we squids fell far behind. We had no chance of beating the Marines. We had no chance of beating the Army either. We were even getting beat by the Air Force. But I mean, no shit. In what fucking dimension would you ever hear, “Oh shit, those sailors are fast.” No one says, “I’m going to join the Navy for all the running opportunities it’ll give me.”

Our four-hour shift was ending, and just in time. I could barely make it.

Then Struck came up to me, Nelson, and a couple others and said, “You guys have to run the next shift. Only a few people from the second shift showed up.”

“You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“Hey,” he said. “I don’t have any sympathy for people running tired. I’ve had to run tired before.”

So we ran for another four hours. My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My ribs hurt. I had to take a shit. Struck got tired of watching us and drove home at around midnight.

At 2 am, Nelson and I crawled our asses up a hill to a tent and lay down inside. I closed my eyes to sleep, and someone came to get us.

“Hey man,” he said, “not enough people showed up for the next shift. You have to run again.”

“Man, fuck you,” I said. “I ain’t going.”

The Navy sure does have a funny PT uniform.

The Navy sure does have a funny PT uniform.

But of course I was going. Nelson and I walked down the hill and ran some more. Whenever it was my turn to run, I just kept shuffling forward. There was no more speed. I had no feeling in my toes, and my face stung from dried sweat.

Nelson and I had just watched The Matrix, so he said things like, “There is no spoon,” and “Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?” It helped.

At 6 am, no one showed up again, because the only time a sailor is running at 6 am on a Saturday is if his girlfriend’s husband just came home. The same thing happened at 10 am. So we had to keep going.

I just wanted it to end. The money had already been raised, there was no way we were going to win, most of my teammates had let me down, and literally no one appreciated my effort. But somewhere I was finishing this out because I had made a commitment, and even at nineteen I wanted to know if I had enough guts to stick to my word. At least Nelson and a few other people were in there gritting it out with me.

At 11 am, after I had been running on-and-off for 17 hours and had covered over twenty-five miles, the Texas gods of weather showed mercy on us and began pouring down rain. The rest of the event was cancelled.

We all met up later for a post-relay celebration. Miraculously, dozens of sailors were there for that. Everyone cheered and huddled together for the photo—even Struck—and I looked at him while I felt like collapsing from exhaustion and said a prayer of thanks for not making me a complete and utter piece of shit like that guy.





  1. Brendan Smith

    April 3, 2013 at 9:35 am

    You showed remarkable restraint. I’d have punched that asshole. Yup, it would’ve been half pay times two for this shipmate. Of course, after 17 hours of running, I may have only managed a meager swing and fainted before the punch actually connected, but hey, the intent would have been there.

  2. Eddie - The Sarge

    April 3, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Hee-larious!!! It was so freaking funny. It remind me of the time we (Marines)had a soccer tournament with the Navy. Their athletic directors,Petty Officers in charge, signed their ship’s team under two different names: only half the team showed up. Still, I respect my Navy brethren – we couldn’t have these good times without you guys. Semper Fi –

  3. Tom

    April 3, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I was at that event with the Navy. I hated those that quit but made sure to be back for the final lap and celebration. PT the next Tuesday seemed brutal too.I was still so sore and Chief did not care that we just ran an 18-hour race.

  4. ET1(SS) Princess

    April 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

    I can’t get this shit-eatin’ grin off of my face because I know exactly what you are all talking about. I used to joke around that I only run 3 miles per year: 1.5 miles per PRT.

  5. Mark

    April 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

    You’re a good man! Way to tough it out.

  6. Gerald M

    April 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    you never know when being voluntold for a shit civie tasking works out in your favor. While at Drum in ’98 my 1SG came by my barrack rm to ask if I had dress blues and if they were ready to be worn. he asked me to report to bn hq in an hour. a couple NCO’s and myself were picked up by Div staff duty and driven to the NY state office bldg in downtown Watertown to help escort the contestants in the Miss NY pageant across the stage. If you think the Miss America contestants look good on TV you should see them behind stage, the second they hit the curtains their evening gowns and swim suits come flying off as they rush to the dressing room to change for the stage. And you wouldn’t believe the cat fights and name calling, we thought a few of them were going to come to blows while wearing nothing but thongs and nylons.

  7. Jason

    April 29, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Wow I cant believe he is wearing that!

  8. Stephen S

    August 15, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Here’s hoping Petty Officer Struck reads this.

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