Andrew Ferguson didn't care about the excruciating pain he experienced during his 26.2 mile hike during last year's YMCA Marathon.
Strapped with a 50-pound ruck sack to his back, Ferguson was unflappable in the last 10 miles despite the fact his feet felt like they were being hit with a hammer or chisel each time they pounded the pavement.
"After nine hours of hiking, your toes hit the front of your boot and there is an extra 50 pounds added," Ferguson said."My feet looked like bricks, but after a few months, my toes returned to normal."
Ferguson, a first Lieutenant in the Air Force, endured the fact he lost a couple of toe nails after the race and had to be medically treated for severe sunburn. He wasn't thinking about himself at all.
He was thinking about his peers, the ones who lost their lives in combat, those that have sacrificed themselves for something bigger than themselves. He was thinking about the Wounded Warriors, those who have fought and sacrificed their personal safety and security during times of political upheaval.
"It was pretty amazing, but I don't focus on what I did," Ferguson said. "It was to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project. They served this country, and when they are in combat, they get their arms, legs, and limbs blown off. They are willing to die for their country, and this will help them get the kind of support they need and deserve. At the end of last year's hike I was suffering pain, but at the end of the day, I got to sit on the couch, have a cold beer and relax. Those guys, in some cases, lost their lives. I felt I could suck it up."
Ferguson walked the majority of the race with close friends Brandon Balskus and Captain Matt Forney. Ferguson didn't anticipate enduring the entire race when he walked to the YMCA that morning.
"When I met him at the gym, Matt said, 'let's do the whole thing,' " Ferguson said. "I said 'well, I guess I am doing this with you.' The first few miles were exciting and it was fun. Then reality sets in, and you start feeling the weight around 10 to 12 miles into it. My toes started to hurt. Eventually, you lose feeling in your feet. You get into the zone and experience ups and downs, and moments of excitement and happiness. Then you realize that you are doing something incredible physically and mentally. There are times when you reach the point of wanting to quit. Then you remember that you are making a sacrifice, and that keeps me going."
This year will be slightly less strenuous for people participating in the Ruck March, as the ruck bags will be reduced from 50 pounds to 35-pound bags. Last year, the Ruckers sacrificed their toenails, their feet, and their skin in order to complete this event for the Wounded Warriors Project.
They are attempting to raise $3,500, which would be $600 more than last year's goal.
"The experience last year was pretty crazy. We only had four people complete the entire marathon last year," Ryan Pheifer, organizer of the Ruck March said.
People that aren't willing or able to do the physically demanding hike with 35 pounds on their backs can support the Wounded Warrior Project by purchasing a $20 T-shirt. It's a noble cause for those who died or were injured on the front line of combat, and an opportunity to express thanks for the unsung foot soldiers that have sacrificed everything for this country's initiatives. Now, is the time for people to donate $20 for a T-shirt to express a dying concept in this country: Patriotism.
(Jason Blasco is a sports writer for The Minot Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)