Story by Terrina Weatherspoon, Defense Media Activity
While many were anticipating green beer, while Ford was recalling its new Escape for the fifth time, and while Miami beat the Hawks for its 19th straight win, Pike, who had been shot in the head March 10 during a firefight in the Maiwand district of Afghanistan, was transferred to Germany where his mother and fiance were saying their final goodbyes.
“This is why I’m running as part of 185 for Heroes,” said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Rychlik, a runner for this year’s 185 for Heroes event. “The war doesn’t really make news anymore. Society doesn’t really know the sacrifices that are being made. I want to bring awareness back. A lot of brothers and sisters in the military have been injured and some have made the ultimate sacrifice. They get injured and kind of slip away. I won’t be a part of letting that happen. I run to remember.”
185 for Heroes, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for wounded warriors, hosts a yearly seven-day, seven marathon run. Founders of the organization, Petty Officer 1st Class Clay Anderson and his sister Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Ackenhausen have turned a recreational hobby into a nationally recognized non-profit. Since its beginning in 2009, the organization has raised more than 50k for wounded warriors.
In its fourth year, 185 for Heroes literally runs on volunteers who run. Each year two people train to run the seven marathons in seven days. They are followed by a two-person support team on bikes. The support team carries supplies, first aid equipment, water, and everything the runners need during breaks. Each morning before the run the team reads a bio for the wounded warrior they are running for that day. It is a daily reminder that the pain and fatigue are worth it.
“This is a very selfless run,” said Lauren Anderson, Clay’s wife and 185 for Heroes board secretary. “Carrying the load of someone on your shoulders. Reflecting every day on what they did and what they’ve been through and what they’ve given to our country.”
“I wake up every morning with a choice. I can wake up and run, or I can wake up and just go about my day,” said Army Master Sgt. David brown, a runner for this year’s 185 for Heroes event. “We have a lot of brothers and sisters in arms that don’t have that luxury. I feel as though a lot of people are forgetting that we do have a lot of our nation’s heroes that are injured and hurt. This is my way of giving back and reminding everybody, including myself, that many of our brothers and sisters are hurt, they are injured and to let them know that we do care.”
In an effort to remember his sacrifice, Pike was one of seven wounded warriors picked to be honored during this year’s 185 for Heroes run. His bio was read on the sixth day.
“Chief Pike served with my husband earlier this year in Afghanistan,” said Ackenhausen. “Unfortunately, he lost his life. Within our CT rate we are a very small community. A lot of people I work with, outside of my husband, knew Chief Pike and he was an incredible man. One of those Chiefs who absolutely looked out for his people and he was a mentor and a friend to my husband, so this is something that hits especially close to home this year.”
“Chris led by example, never asking someone to do something that he himself had not done, or was not willing to do,” said Ryan Ackenhausen, Ashley’s husband. “I was always struck by Chris’ leadership style. Rather than forcing others to work on his terms, Chris would come to each person in the way that suited them. He led each person in the way that was most effective for them. He understood people and would talk to them on their own stage. The way he pulled me aside and mentored me was different than the way he mentored the next guy. In addition to his natural charisma, his leadership style put him at the head of every group I saw him work in. He was the easiest person to work for and the Navy as a whole is a poorer workplace due to his absence.”
Being that they are both active duty themselves, but without the actual experience of having boots on the ground, Ashley Ackenhausen saw 185 for Heroes as the closest thing her and her brother could do to honor those who have come back with injuries, or who have paid the ultimate price. But they could have never anticipated the amount of support they would get toward making their plan such a success.
“Initially 185 for Heroes was going to be a brother and sister run that gave the two (who lived on opposite coasts) a chance to connect,” said Ryan. “But as the planning progressed they saw the potential for this project to become something more. The non-profit that resulted from their collaboration is a direct representation of their selfless hearts. When Ashley and Clay decided that they wanted to run for something other than themselves, it was a very short jump to raising money for wounded warriors. In addition to all of our involvement in the military, we each knew people that had been wounded and were struggling, or who were dealing with the loss of a loved one from a combat injury.”
People like Diana Pike, Pike’s mother.
“We got the call that Christian had been shot,” said Pike. “He should have never come off the battlefield. The neurosurgeon told us that he died instantly, they kept his body alive. So we got to sit with him for four days. Most people don’t get that. We donated his organs because that was in his final directives. Five people are alive now because of him. That was his final gift. He was in service till the end.”
Which is why 185 for Heroes has vowed to continue to serve as well. Like the motto suggests “We Run because They Fought.”
“My husband and I were talking one night and we wanted something that really represented why we were doing this and he just turns to me and says we run because they fought,” said Ackenhausen. “And that sums up why we do it. Even our runners this year have said they won’t stop running, because it’s for something greater than any of us.”
“I’ll never stop running,” said Rychlik. “I always run, I love to run, and now I have a cause to run for. It comes naturally and easy to me. This is a longer distance which poses some difficulties, but knowing I’m running for my brothers and sisters that can’t, it just makes it that much easier for me to go and run.”
“We have the luxury of the choice to be able to choose and go out and do that,” said Brown. “And to not run is an abuse of that privilege that we’ve been given. Hopefully it will inspire others. As long as I’m physically able to, and seeing my brothers and sisters not able to, I won’t stop till I have to.”
“I like that they take pride in service and doing things for others,” said Diana, in reference to this year’s team. “When you learn to live a life of service and you learn to put others before yourself, you learn to make a contribution. They are taking their time to make a contribution. Their parents should be proud.”
“It is one of the most awesome experiences at the finish line ceremonies when we get to meet the families of the wounded warriors,” said Ackenhausen, who ran the first ever 185 for Heroes with her brother. “I knew that first year that we were doing something incredible, but nothing touched me more than to cross the finish line and have the families come up to you and thank you for what you’re doing. You don’t understand the impact until you see the impact on other people.”
Diana said she believes that what this organization is doing is important and she was glad to have been a part of it.
“We forget we are at war,” said Diana. “We just forget that our sons and daughters are always in harm’s way, so I think things like this remind the community that it’s not over and our children are still out there. We need to support them and support their families who are back here alone.”
Diana said that Chris was a simple man and that he didn’t believe in having a lot of possessions. He believed the most important thing was being kind.
“He had a really good heart, and he was crazy funny. I just miss him. It’s just hard now that he’s gone. As parents we only care that our kids are happy. And Christian was happy. Even all of the photos you see of him in Afghanistan, he’s happy. He was doing what he wanted to and I don’t regret that at all.”
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