I have done a lot of runs for causes over the years but CarryTheLoad.org touches me deeply: I cry along the entire path out of gratitude, sadness, pride, humility, and love.
Carry the Load has one mission: "To restore the true meaning of Memorial Day by connecting Americans to the sacrifices of our military, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue personnel."
These men and women have the courage to do what I have never done. As a result, they carry a load I have never had to bear.
The 20 hour and 16 minute event honors United States service men and women, first-responders, and clergy in a way I have never seen other events do. It recognizes the invisible toll military life can take especially when these individuals return to civilian life. The loss of comrades, witnessing human suffering, coming home to confront Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, depression, anxiety, isolation, adjustment issues, employment and financial challenges and a host of other surprises greet them at the doorstep of post-service life. It aims to transition military service personnel back to civilian life as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.
During the event, military personnel set up camp at a park near one of the jogging trails in Dallas, Texas. They spend the evening in fellowship sharing stories, talking about civilian life, and reminiscing of the days only they understand. The next day opens with a band, vendors, and a few, very select guest speakers, including the organization's founder, Clint Bruce, a former Navy SEAL who is as big as an army tank, has a heart of gold and is so laser-focused on his Carry the Load mission that when he speaks about it, you feel as if he were aiming at a bulls-eye through a scope during target practice. He is passionate, as smart as they come, and good to the core. After he opens the event, everyone gets ready to walk, run, wheel, and remember. The trail starts at the park and ends about four miles away. People walk up and down for hours.
Huge posters with photographs of first-responders, clergy, and service men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and safety respectfully adorn the entire path. There are small American flags all along the way, as well. But, the most poignant reminders of the sacrifices are the men and women themselves. People carry full-sized American flags and are in full gear, including 90-pound backpacks that represent more than just heavy items; they represent the heavy, invisible load they carry, as well.
These individuals gave willingly to a cause much greater than themselves; but somehow, that was not enough. The cause wanted more from them and it took it. Their service to our nation as military personnel, police officers, firefighters, chaplains, and paramedics exacts a heavy toll in many different ways, some invisible and haunting.
We may never have to carry the load they do but we can help ease that burden. We owe them more than, "Thank you." We owe them our profound gratitude. We can demonstrate that in many ways: We can donate our time and money, pray for them, and live our lives fully and meaningfully to show we truly appreciate all they have done for us.
We may not be able to carry their load for them but we can certainly try to lessen the burden from the weight they bear.