Thursday, February 3, 2011

Waco's "Turnout for a Cause" Marathon Relay

An account from FF Dave Williams (E31/C):

Summary:
Lt. Josh Portie (ENG02C), Spec. Lawrence Clowry (ENG08C) and FF Dave Williams (ENG31C) were joined by a member of the Jollyville Fire Department to compete in the first annual “Turnout for a Cause” firefighter marathon relay in Waco on January 30. The team took first place in the firefighter category, following a grueling 26.2 miles in unseasonable heat and humidity clad in full turnouts and structural helmets. The win was a stunning victory with thirty minutes separating them from the second place team. The relay was part of a larger, parent marathon, known as the “Miracle Match,” that has been put on by the Waco Professional Firefighters Association (Local 478) since 2004 to raise funds for the Be the Match Foundation. The foundation supports a national registry database of potential bone marrow donors and helps fund research into various forms of blood cancers.

History of the Event:
The Waco Professional Firefighters Union (Local 478) has grown a once small marathon, the “Miracle Match,” into one of the best medium size race fields over the past seven years. Like many running events, this one sponsors a unique charity, the Be the Match Foundation, whose aim is to collect and register potential bone marrow donors in a national database and provide funding for blood cancer research. The Waco Fire Department has always been the backbone of the event and provided all aspects of course certification, marketing and race-weekend support. As is common to the fire service, their efforts have been intense, but often quite in the name of serving the charity and providing a challenging race to all runners.

In 2005, then ATCEMS Paramedic, Dave Williams (AFD ENG31C) was on his way to Waco to sign on his first home, when he encountered a rollover accident with an ejection on the freeway just outside of Waco. FF Williams was soon joined by Waco Firefighter, Wade Durbin, to care for the patient. Upon clearing the scene, FF Durbin asked if FF Williams was a runner. With a positive reply, Durbin quickly handed him a race flyer for the marathon.

After joining the Austin Fire Department in 2006, FF Williams began to intensify his running with eyes on competing in the race the following year. In October of 2009, Williams sustained a fracture during preparation for the event. Unable to compete that year, he began preparing for 2010, only to sustain a stress fracture in one of his legs. Ill-prepared for the complete distance, he challenged his wife to run the half-marathon with him. She laughed at the proposition, to which he countered “If you’ll train with me, I’ll run it in bunker gear to level the field.” She reluctantly agreed.

Ironically, the race director was a client of his wife’s catering business and the wife of his orthopedist. Once she got wind of the dare, she quickly “comped” their registration. A month later, Williams crossed the finish line in an old set of turnouts, hand-in-hand with his wife. The image of a firefighter crossing the finish line of a firefighter’s race quickly became a photograph associated with race marketing and inspired an idea: to create a separate relay category of 4-person fire “crews” to compete in the full course.

FF Williams worked throughout 2010 to make this concept a reality. On January 30, 2011, three members of the Austin Fire Department joined forces with a Jollyville Firefighter to compete in the first annual “Turnout for a Cause.” Lt. Josh Portie (ENG02C) and Spec. Larry Clowry (ENG08C) dominated the event taking home first place in 4 hours, 6 minutes and 19 seconds.

In contrast to traditional, competitive marathon times, this may not appear to be such a inspiring performance. However, the team endured unseasonable January heat and humidity with highs reaching 68 degrees, and did so in full turnouts and a structural helmet. The Jollyville Firefighter kept a steady tempo for the first 5 miles and was relieved by Spec. Clowry just three minutes behind the then first place team, the Round Rock Fire Department. Cowry took the lead over the first 2 of his 8 mile leg. FF Williams added to Clowry’s lead over 7 mile of long hill climbs before handing of to Lt. Portie who added yet a greater lead throughout the notorious rolling hills of Waco’s Cameron Park. The team rejoined Lt. Portie half a mile from the finish for a spectacular moment in fire service history.

The Austin team was joined by two teams from the Waco Fire Department on the victory stage where they received actual commemorative badges plated in gold, nickel and bronze. All firefighter participants were issued long-sleeved, navy “station shirts” and challenge coins. Participants from the general race field received handmade, Maltese-cross finisher medals made by a Waco firefighter (nearly 1700 in all!). The race was first class all the way.

This year’s event was a success on many levels. The registration was nearly double that of last year (despite being on the same day as Austin’s 3M Half and the Houston Marathon). The fire service presence was an inspiration to many runners and bystanders. The firefighter camaraderie was electric, and spawned interest in many other firefighter events, including the Austin Fire Department “St. Baldrick’s” festivities in March. A kid’s version of the race in which school-aged children from around Central Texas logged 25 miles prior to race day and completed their marathon distance across the same finish line as the general field. This aspect made a huge impact on promotion of community health. FF Williams’ daughter Louisa, age 5 and clad in a custom made, pink AFD running suit, competed in this event with her dad. Finally, the untold efforts of the Waco Fire Department were revealed in area media outlets and national running forums.

The Miracle Match Marathon has always provided one of the toughest courses in the nation along the backdrop of Waco’s historic scenery. The firefighter relay provided a new-wrinkle to an already solid event that draws more and more runners each year. This year’s relay teams have already vowed to make it a tradition, and several independent firefighter runners have already begun forming their teams for next year. Per our three victorious members, the Austin Fire Department Command Staff was very supportive and integral to the success of this year’s team. Event organizers are already hard at work to determine a date for the 2012 race that will not conflict with other regional events. Many of the AFD members who’d expressed an interest in this year’s event were already committed to the 3M Half Marathon.

The phenomenal victory of these AFD Operations Firefighters underscores the continuing success of AFD’s Wellness Program with respect to their display of the fitness, discipline and sheer physical prowess that is today’s Austin Firefighter.

The team wishes to thank Chiefs: Crooks, Bailey, Garza, Klepac, Walker and Thompson, along with all those in their chain of command for their support and interest. They also wish to thank Waco area firefighter and EMT Joe Meadows who staffed their team support vehicle and looked after their medical and hydration/fueling needs during the event. They plan to reunite for 2012’s event, but say there’s always room for a few more AFD teams. A challenge? You bet!

Main Event Page:
http://www.sw.org/web/SW/patientsAndVisitors/iwcontent/public/marathon/en_us/html/marathon.html

Overall Relay Results:
http://www.sw.org/web/patientsAndVisitors/iwcontent/public/marathon/en_us/pdf/2011ResultsHalfRelay.pdf

Facebook Page for Additional Photos:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Miracle-Match-Marathon-Waco/173877882626578?v=photos

Waco Tribune Herald Photos (from 90 up):
http://www.wacotrib.com/photos/Miracle-Match-Marathon-2011-Day-2.html