OMAHA, Neb. ' The Kansas National Guard marathon team represented the state of Kansas by giving it their all at the Omaha Marathon Sept. 20, 2020. In total, 110 members of the National Guard participated in the time trial marathon to earn an opportunity to represent the All Guard Marathon Team for the 2021 season.
Despite training through a national shutdown and the uncertainty of whether the race would even occur, the seven-member Kansas National Guard marathon team showed up ready to compete.
The 2020 Kansas National Guard marathon team took part in the Omaha Marathon, in Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 20th, 2020. Team members are (left to right): 1st Lt. Nick Clair, 73rd Civil Support Team, Kansas Air National Guard; Cadet Jessica Pal, 1077th Ambulance Unit, Kansas Army National Guard; Tech. Sgt. Jason Dolan, 190th Air Refueling Wing, Kansas Air National Guard; Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Wittig, 130th Field Artillery Brigade, Kansas Army National Guard; Capt. Hans Stephensen, Kansas Training Center, Kansas Army National Guard; Sgt. Nick Ledet, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, Kansas Army National Guard. Not pictured: Master Sgt. Vincent Casper, 184th Intelligence Support Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard.
1st Lt. Nick Clair, a medical operations officer assigned to the 73rd Civil Support Team in Topeka, is the current state marathon team coordinator for Kansas. He said he has seen some ups and downs during his racing career, but the weekend's race made it all worth it.
Over 10 years ago, Nick noticed someone in the National Guard wearing some All Guard Marathon Team apparel. He didn't think much of it at the time, but several years later, he received an email recruiting Guard members to the team. After a couple of calls and questions, he understood the criteria and understood that he wasn't meeting it.
A few years later, information about the team grabbed his attention again. This time he met the criteria and ran his first marathon with the Kansas Guard team at the Lincoln Marathon. As he started to run more regularly with the team, the coordinator was nearing retirement. Thus Clair took over the responsibilities and began recruiting new members.
Over the months to come he coordinated with Soldiers, Airmen and National Guard units across the state to build a team consisting of Kansas Air National Guard members Master Sgt. Vincent Casper and Tech. Sgt. Jason Dolan and Kansas Army National Guard members Capt. Hans Stephensen, Cadet Jessica Pal, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Wittig and Sgt. Nick Ledet.
Guard competitors from around the U.S. trickled in throughout Friday night, which allowed many of the runners to participate in recruiting events Saturday. The recruiting and retention workshop aimed at helping competitors communicate the benefits of the National Guard to possible recruits.
'When we are traveling from state to state, we are helping to recruit,' said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Sterns, the National Guard marathon coordinator, Nebraska Army National Guard. 'We are bringing new people to our team and our family so that we can build a National Guard everywhere.'
Saturday continued with each team helping the Nebraska National Guard recruiters talk to the public at an outdoor marathon expo. The day ended with a 'roll call' from each state where runners would introduce themselves and share some words of encouragement.
Sunday was race day, with the competitors at the starting line bright and early at 7 a.m. The course took runners through downtown Omaha, in and out of a golf course and by Carter Lake, where they hit the turnaround point and repeated the journey to the finish line.
When the dust settled and the race was over, all Kansas Guard marathon team members finished the race. Clair finished with a time of 3 hours 16 minutes and 42 seconds, earning him a spot on the All Guard marathon team alongside his teammate Pal, who finished best in her age bracket with a time of 4 hours and 45 seconds. The Kansas National Guard marathon team came in 11th place overall out of the 48 National Guard teams that competed.
'It is definitely a big honor,' said Pal. 'I get to do one of the hobbies I enjoy while serving in the Army.'
Clair and Pal will go on to represent not only the Kansas National Guard Team but the National Guard nationwide on the All Guard Marathon Team. They will go on to compete at marathons across the country during the fiscal year 2021.
'It is a great thing to be able to do something you love and represent the state of Kansas and my unit,' said Clair. 'I just encourage other Guardsmen and women to try and do things like this.'