Multiple challenges don’t stop marathon relay team

  • Published
  • 448th Supply Chain Management Wing

One marathon relay race wasn’t enough for six members of the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing who completed two long-distance runs in the span of seven weeks.

While it’s not unusual for a group to train and run together, this government team faced several challenges. As a “start-up” they didn’t know each other when they first became a team and five of the six hadn’t run a relay before. Three had only run a couple of 5Ks. Two were happy to be running at all after major accidents.  And one person almost didn’t make it back to town to run.

Regina Houze, Gregory Thompson, Jennifer Schmitt, Richard Stephens Jr. and 1st Lt. Joseph Nacionales banded together in October to run in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon to honor the 168 who died in the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing and improve their running. They prepared with practice runs together and apart. A group text kept them all up-to-date with running progress and prevented them from quitting, which helped one teammate deal with a readiness issue.

Thompson was recovering from a broken foot after falling 12 feet from a ladder during Christmas 2020. His doctor completely immobilized his foot in a boot cast for two months.

“It took me until May 2021 to fully recover from the injury,” Thompson said.

He started running again in August, eight months after the incident, to physically and mentally prepare.

“Think of going from an active five-time-per-week runner to not having the ability to run at all,” he said.

Houze joined the team two weeks before the Oklahoma City marathon after another teammate dropped out. Then, she almost missed her opportunity due to travel delays, making it home just in time to pick up her shirt, bib and wrist bracelet.

I always wanted to do ,” she said. “I was relieved when I got on the plane in Houston. I didn’t want to let the team down.”

The 448th SCMW team completed the Oklahoma City run in 4:34:31, earning seventh place of 13 government relay teams. But that ranking didn’t bother them because their focus was on training and ensuring their five runners started and finished.

The team was surprised a few days after the Oklahoma City marathon when Thompson announced he and his wife had signed up for Tulsa’s Williams Route 66 Marathon to be held in mid-November. Because he would be completing the first two of five legs as part of the half marathon, Thompson asked if the others wanted to run the remaining three legs of the marathon as a relay team. Houze and Stephens committed to run and the team added Jason Gallant, who works for the Defense Contract Management Agency, as the final runner.

While the others were simply lengthening their runs, Gallant forced himself to get back in shape after an accident in August 2019 which resulted in a severe traumatic brain injury and a month’s hospital stay. After a medical procedure, Gallant blacked out, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on concrete. His life changed direction. Time stood still as surgeons treated his injuries in an ICU for two weeks, followed by two weeks recovery in a hospital bed and a month’s worth of outpatient therapy to help him walk better.

“This changed my life,” Gallant said. “I’m so grateful for my family and friends that helped me get through it. A cochlear implant restored my hearing and improved my balance.”

For a man used to outdoor running, hiking and biking, not doing these for two years seemed endless. Then he got the surprise call from Thompson in October that changed everything.

“He asked whether I wanted to run in Tulsa’s Route 66 in November and I immediately said yes,” Gallant said. Right away, he started running again, slowly at first because of balance issues, but gradually lengthening his stride and miles to be ready.

On race day in Tulsa, Thompson led off and ran the first 10 miles. He handed the timing belt to Stephens, who ran the next 5 miles before handing the belt off to Houze. After she ran 5.2 miles, Gallant took the belt to finish the final 6 miles. The team finished in a total time of 4:32:40, which was a two minute improvement over their first run.

Everyone agreed participating in two relay races boosted their physical fitness and was a great way to get to know co-workers. Most improved – and pleased with their runs – were Thompson with a 2:00:28 run (9:12 pace) and Gallant with 59:22 (10-minute miles).

“The support you get from your teammates is fantastic,” Houze said.

Thompson agreed, adding that “there’s a sense of camaraderie.”

The team showed resiliency as they faced several challenges, but will they run together again?

“Perhaps,” said Stephens. “Right now, we’re happy to have run two marathons in two Oklahoma cities over a two month period.”