A Really Dry Heat: TEAM USO Runner Trains for Marine Corps Marathon in Kuwaiti Desert

Kuwait is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of training grounds for the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, but that’s what Jason Lewis signed up for when he joined TEAM USO. The former Marine and former USO staff member began training for his 26.2-mile trek while working at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

“The heat would [get] up to 130 degrees, so it made it very hard to get motivated to get outside and do long miles,” Lewis said, adding that he’s enjoying the cooler Michigan air while finishing up his training. “I adopted the method of doing what I could and took advantage of cool mornings.”

Lewis’ firsthand knowledge of the USO’s impact on troops kept him motivated throughout the training process.

“I believe in what the USO does and want to do anything I can do to help out,” he said, recalling his time in the service. “Every time I passed through an airport, I would stop at the USO center.”

Lewis even recruited friend and fellow Marine, Ryan Taylor, to TEAM USO.

“When I asked [Ryan] to run with me, it was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “We had been talking about getting out there and doing some runs and fitness stuff. I was like ‘Hey, we can raise some money for a great organization. I’m on the inside, so I know what the money goes to.’ So he was on board as soon as I told him that we should do it.”

Combined, the friends have raised nearly $3,000 for the USO. Lewis and Taylor are not alone in their TEAM USO fundraising efforts. So far, the team of 30 Marine Corps Marathon runners has raised more than $35,000 as part of this year’s marathon.

“I’m proud to be raising money for the USO, and hopefully, I can raise a few more dollars by the end of the year,” Lewis said.

Find out more about TEAM USO and their fundraising efforts for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon on the TEAM USO Marine Corps Marathon homepage.

–Jessica Battaglia, USO

Race Toward Your 2014 New Year’s Resolution with TEAM USO

Did you set a lofty New Year’s Resolution to lose some extra poundage? Are you willing to raise money to support the troops and their families in exchange for a little help meeting your goal?

TeamUSOIf so, TEAM USO is ready to grant you entry into and help you train for some of the most challenging and sought-after marathons, triathlons and obstacle course races in America.

A new addition this year is the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Set against the natural beauty of San Francisco, this triathlon is a virtual postcard of the City by the Bay and is consistently ranked as a favorite event among triathletes. It features a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the shores of the St. Francis Yacht Club combined with a grueling 18-mile bike ride and an 8-mile run through the trails of the breathtaking Golden Gate Recreational Area.

TEAM USO also has entries for 20 Rugged Maniac obstacle course races near major metropolitan areas around the country. Combined with favorites like the Marine Corps Marathon and the New York City Marathon, the whole family is sure to find a race to enjoy.

“Of course, all of our Team USO events are fun, but the Rugged Maniac events are a great way to get a big group of people outside for some exercise while raising money for troops and their families,” said Team USO Program Manager Kymberly Jordan. “A group of friends can really make a day out of it.”

Whether you want to run, walk or just get dirty, now it is easier than ever to find a way to support our troops. Register now and join fellow TEAM USO members in raising money to make the lives of America’s brave servicemen and women and their families a little bit easier by providing programs and services through USO centers worldwide.

Cake Decorator Raises Dough for USO

Chris with one of his masterpieces!

Meet Chris Kasparek, the cake boss of Naples, Italy.

He’s a Navy civilian, marathon runner and cake designer extraordinaire.  And he’s putting all his talents to work for the USO.

Kasparek hadn’t planned on running a marathon this year, but a few months ago he saw a Facebook post about Team USO and decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete for a good cause.

“I had run three [marathons] in the last five years and had felt my body just wasn’t up for it,” he said, “And then I saw the link and was inspired.”

Team USO has a limited number of guaranteed registrations for the New York City marathon for runners who raise a minimum of $3,000.  Slots are also available for the Marine Corps marathon, with a fundraising requirement of $1,200 and the Air Force marathon with a $700 requirement.

Kasparek, the Navy’s director of child and youth programs in Naples, will compete in the New York City event, and he knew exactly how he would raise the dough. He put out the word to friends and colleagues, offering one of his famous custom cakes in exchange for a contribution.

The 37-year-old husband and father of two first started baking cakes for his children’s birthday parties, carrying on a tradition passed down by his father.

“My dad had decorated our cakes when we were kids growing up… I watched him and it was just like, ‘I want to do that for my kids.’  They’ve already said they want to do it for their kids.” 

You name it, he’s baked it—pirates and princesses, penguins and ponies, and every imaginable superhero.

So far, Kasparek has raised $3,360 for the USO, with about $700 coming from his cakes.  He’s hoping to push past the $4,000 mark by race time.

He’s been passionate about the USO since working with them last year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  He was sent to the Seattle airport to help coordinate child care for Japanese families who’d been evacuated to the U.S., and he was immediately impressed by the USO’s efficiency and compassion.

“Through their communications avenues, donations were coming in—diapers, food for the babies, games, coloring books, just everything that would make these families comfortable as they arrived from Japan… Whatever we needed, they found a way to get for us.”

Kasparek feels it’s his turn to give back to the USO and the troops.

He recently added a weight loss challenge to his fundraising efforts.  He’s trying to shed 35 pounds by race time.  If he doesn’t lose it all, he’ll pay back part of your pledge and cover the difference himself.

“I’ve slowed down on the cakes so I can concentrate on training,” said Kasparek, “Cakes don’t help training.” – Malini Wilkes , USO Director of Story Development

Way To Go, TEAM USO!

A TEAM USO member at the starting line. (USO photo by Neshan Naltchayan)

We would like to applaud all members of TEAM USO who participated in the Marine Corps Marathon and 10k yesterday.  It truly was an amazing day and your support of our troops and their families is to be commended.  Altogether the team raised over $34,000, with 36 runners participating.

We’d also like to send a big thank you to all who came out to support the runners.  We know they wouldn’t have made it through 6.2 or 26.2 miles without family and friends cheering them on.  And we’re already looking forward to doing it all over again next year!

Check out more photos from the day on TEAM USO’s Facebook page. If you are interested in joining TEAM USO and running the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011 please email athleteinfo@uso.org.  TEAM USO registration for the marathon and 10K will open in early 2011 and we are always looking for new teammates.  Hope to see you out there!

The first group of TEAM USO runners pose for a group photo before heading to the start line. (USO photo by Neshan Naltchayan)

The second group of TEAM USO runners pose for a group photo before heading to the start line. (USO photo by Neshan Naltchayan)

Team Captain Tracey Holtshirley looks strong as he heads out with 26.2 miles ahead. (USO photo by Neshan Naltchayan)

TEAM USO member Nikki Etxegoien proudly wears her marathon medal, surrounded by the supporters who cheered her along the route! (USO photo by Neshan Naltchayan)

Meet Team USO’s Tracey Holtshirley

Tracey Holtshirley runs in the Marine Corps Marathon "shadow race" on Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, October 2009. (Courtesy photo)

Who are you? I am Tracey Holtshirley, a reserve Marine Corps Major and civilian lawyer.  I have served in the Corps for 14 years and deployed to Iraq twice in support of our nation’s efforts to assist the Iraqi people. I live in Chicago with my wife of eight years.

Why do you run? Running has been a tremendous source of solace and recommitment to succeed in the face of life’s challenges. Running keeps me healthy, fit and sharp. Though my running has not always been fun or easy, but the rewards are inexhaustible.

Why do you support the USO? The USO has been a wonderful friend to me as I have served in the Marine Corps, whether I was deployed or at home.

For those on the fence about joining the team and running the MCM, what encouragement/advice would you give? I would encourage those who are on the fence to join the team because of the double blessing they will receive and the untold blessing the servicemembers and their families will receive from that effort.  As a Team USO runner, you will be helping to support a proven organization as they support our nation’s brave men and women in uniform; you will also reap the benefit of healthy living and help to inspire others to live healthy as well; and don’t forget that you will strengthen your inner resolve to tackle life’s multitude of challenges with the confidence that you can prevail.

Holtshirley is all smiles after completing the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon. (Courtesy photo)

You have run the Marine Corps Marathon before. What advice would you give to those running it for the first time? Don’t underestimate the challenge, but don’t shy away from it. Like anything in life you must prepare…TRAIN! The MCM course is a beautiful course, steeped with history. The more trained you are, the less time you’ll spend with your eyes glued to the pavement. You can look around and enjoy the scenery and the awesome crowds that have come out to support you.

What is your favorite post-run snack/meal? Hmmmm, that’s a tough one. I’ve run many a long race and can get by post-race with some Gatorade, bananas, and something salty! I’m never too hungry initially, but a few hours later it hits me. I definitely try to grab a protein shake as soon as possible and then chow down that evening on the traditional meat and potatoes (and veggies)!!

What is your most memorable race experience and why? Topping the list has to be the MCM in 2009. I was deployed to Iraq and had the “pleasure” to coordinate a shadow race on Al Asad Airbase. I have a new found appreciation for those that put these great events together. I had a great group of volunteers and colleagues to make this happen. Then I had to race and then I got to support and recognize the participants and volunteers. Amazing time!

If you could send one message to our men and women in uniform serving around the world, what would it be? Stay true to your corps values at all costs. Challenge yourselves daily and challenge those around you to be better than they were yesterday!

Join Us: TEAM USO is Here!

What is TEAM USO?  TEAM USO was developed in response to volunteers like you who were looking for new ways to support the troops and their families.  It’s a comprehensive web-based program that makes it fun, fast, and easy to raise money in support of our mission.  We provide the guidance, tools and resources…you supply the creativity and passion!

Whether you’re emailing, baking, biking, running, collecting, dancing or more, know that TEAM USO is there to provide the tools and tips you need to make your event a success.  TEAM USO is made up of individuals from every walk of life who are united in their support of our troops and their families, and that’s a powerful thing!

Today we want to introduce you to one member of the team, and hope you’ll join us as we continue to grow…

Runners emerge from under an overpass during the 34th Annual Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Arlington, Va., Oct. 25, 2009. The MCM is a 26.2 mile race to promote physical health, stimulate communal goodwill and demonstrate the organizational skills of the U.S. Marine Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Patricia A. Claypool/Released)

Who are you?
Pam Riker, USO employee and Team USO Coach

Why do you run?
I run because it is a part of who I am. Running has been my sport of choice for almost 20 years and it is where I draw both strength and solace.

Why do you support the USO?
I support the USO because I have a tremendous amount of awe and respect for our country’s service men and women. I could never do the job that they do, and so I am forever grateful for the fact that they put their lives on hold and face danger to protect my freedom. I also have seen and experienced first hand the services that the USO offers as I have a loved one in the Army.

For those on the fence about joining the team and running the Marine Crops Marathon (MCM), what encouragement/advice would you give?
Just do it! If you have even the slightest desire (or curiosity) to join this program and run MCM with Team USO, then just do it. For 8 years I trained people to run marathons and the hardest step is the very first one; actually committing to do it. Once you get over that hurdle, the rest is easy…….Ok, maybe not easy…. But, the challenge and triumph that comes from training for and completing a marathon is like nothing else one could ever experience in life. And, doing all that for a cause greater than yourself makes the experience even that much more rewarding.

You have run the Marine Corps Marathon before. What advice would you give to those running it for the first time?
Take in every moment of it. Listen to crowd cheering you on. High five the Marine that is yelling words of encouragement and motivation. Enjoy the view of the monuments and the beautiful DC Fall scenery. The Marine Corps Marathon is known as the “People’s Marathon” and I believe that statement to be absolutely true. There is no friendlier or more beautiful course in my mind. And don’t listen to all those folks who tell you that the hill before the finish line is horrendous…..yes, it’s a hill, but by that point in the race you will be the strongest you have ever been in your life, so just kick it into high gear and tackle that hill. Then you can collapse and bask in the glory at the finish line ☺

What is your favorite post-run snack/meal?
Oh wow, what isn’t my favorite post-run snack?? Honestly, my body is usually craving a lot of protein after a long run, so I usually go for either a nice hamburger piled high with lots of fresh veggies or I hit up my local Chipotle for a burrito bowl filled with beans, meat, veggies and guacamole.

What is your most memorable race experience and why?
I have completed 8 marathons and over a dozen half marathons, so it’s hard to pick my most memorable moment out of all of them. Each race holds a special place in my heart and I cherish every experience (even those that I struggled with). I loved the Marine Corps Marathon because it was my first and I ran it in honor of a family member that I lost years ago.

But, I would have to say the most memorable race experience was running the New York City Marathon in November, 2001. While many people were afraid to visit the city after September 11, a group of 40,000 eager runners came together and said, “we will not be afraid, but we will embrace this city after this tragedy”. As we lined up at the start line and just before the starting gun went off, they played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. The entire crowd just gathered together, sang and cried.

As we ran through the five boroughs, the streets were lined with New Yorkers cheering us on, so happy that this group of crazy runners was supporting their city. New York’s finest fire fighters and police officers were all along the route, high-fiving and yelling words of encouragement. And not a single runner passed them by with saying a word of gratitude for their service. It actually brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. It was one of the most memorable days of my life and it shows the joy and sense of community that running can provide. I was never so proud to run through a city as I was on that day.

Ready to join the team?  Learn more about TEAM USO and start supporting the troops: visit www.teamuso.org today and follow Team USO on Facebook!