Talk to 1000 runners at a race, and you will have 1000 (or more) stories of why they are there, stories that are all as unique, special and inspirational as the runners themselves. In my short running career, I’ve learned that runners have some of the biggest hearts, and they wear their hearts on their running kits and bibs, telling the world what is motivating them through that 5K, 10K, 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles and more. I’m no stranger to running ‘for’ someone else; my real interest in the sport started when I started running for Meg Cross Menzies, an elite runner who was hit and killed by a drunk driver on a training run (I’d never met her). Since then, I’ve developed a relationship with my I Run 4 Siblings buddy, K-Man, who is a constant reminder that I can meet challenges head on and be successful. Running can be a great way to raise money for a cause you believe in, and I have been able to help both the Humane Society of Tulsa (2015) and Girls on the Run Chicago (2016) through my running efforts. In most races, I will even make a list of to whom I dedicate each mile, spending that mile thinking about that person/persons as a way to show them the importance they have in my life. Having my running mean more than just an activity for me is a special way that I can show my love and support to others.
I will always run for Meg and K-Man, for my husband and my friends who share the course. They are my daily inspiration in life and in running. However, my 2017 will be taking a different route, and I am beyond honoured and humbled to be dedicating each of my races to one specific individual through the organisation 22 Too Many.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, approximately 22 veterans and active duty service members take their own lives due to things such as PTSD, a traumatic brain injury suffered during service or difficulty readjusting to civilian life. That is one person every 65 min. I knew about this statistic – even doing my 22 pushups for 22 days to help raise awareness about this problem – but in all honesty, I wanted to do more. But that interest went dormant for a while until I saw some friends in MegsMiles running the Marine Corps Marathon this year. They were running for someone who had sadly chosen to take their own life (names provided through 22 Too Many). I read the stories they posted, got teary eyed and proceeded to look up the organisation 22 Too Many. I immediately contacted one of the co-founders to see how I could also run for someone.
Keri was the one who replied to my inquiry. I shared with her my spring marathon plans, starting with the Bermuda Marathon on January 15, 2017. She saw that and that my email address had the word ‘Bermuda’ in it, and asked about my connection to the island. Amazingly, she lived there for seven years on the base in St. David’s, well before I lived there, but we clearly had that in common. I am a believer that there are no coincidences in life, and this was speaking to me loud and clear that this was what I needed to do for 2017. Keri has since started me down the path to run for one of the 22 Too Many heroes. The goal: to “serve as a living memorial, reduce the stigma by increasing public knowledge and awareness of PTS, share helpful resources, and provide support and comfort to the grieving families left behind.”
And so, my 10th marathon, the Bermuda Marathon, will be run in memory of SPC Francis Graves III. Lovingly known as Stoney to his friends and family, the second anniversary of his death is coming up at the end of January. Here is his story, as told by his father.
SPC Francis “Stoney” Graves III
10/13/82 – 1/29/15
On January 20th, 2015, my son took his life. The demons of war finally won their battle. He had been a Gift of Life donor since the age of 16. This bequest was honored on the 29th of January. His organs went to many in need of hope. Again, not only was my son a hero serving his country but also to the people and their families who received these organs. Rest in peace, son!
Remembering Specialist 4 Francis J. Graves III (Stoney) who passed away on Jan.29-2015 surrounded by his loving family. He was born in Wilmington Delaware October 13, 1982. He enlisted in the Delaware Army National Guard and served with the 153rd Military Police Battalion. Not long after his training, his unit was deployed overseas for combat duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After his one year tour he returned to Delaware.
My son was a typical boy growing up in the country. He was our little hardhead and had more dents and scrapes than a lot of people I know. He grew into the nickname we gave him – Stoney – because my name was Rocky so Stoney it would be. He loved sports growing up and became a wrestler in high school and went on be very good at it. After high school he had the yearning to become a police officer or maybe even a FBI agent so he enlisted into the army and became a M.P.
After his deployment for Iraqi Freedom he returned home and resumed his guard duties. My boy and me had quite a relationship – not only working for me but we went on building houses and renovated many more. My son could do anything with his hands and mind; he was very talented but don’t give him a paint brush. He was one sloppy painter! He was a prankster and anyone who knew him had a joke or two played on them.
There is no doubt his fellow troops loved him for this and knew if the shit hit the fan they would want him on their side, manning the machine gun. He was all about that! Stoney had a lot of ups and downs in his life. The more these tribulations happened the harder it got for him to see life getting any brighter. My boy had never been a quitter but I believe the PTSD was becoming overwhelming at that point for him. My wife and I had been taking him to the V.A. Hospital here in Delaware for all the issues vets bring home with them from war. Pretty much 3 days a week he was seeing doctors and counselors at Behavior Health. Then to top it off he acquired an addiction problem which sometimes goes hand in hand with PTSD. These are some of the diagnosis from doctors he was given: Poly substance abuse, Depression Anxiety Disorder, Dysomnia (a form of Insomnia), Anti-Social Personality Disorder, PTSD Nightmares.
This is the kicker – Flag Category1 High Risk for Suicide and later on we would find out he had attempted suicide in November but was unsuccessful with the drug Ambien and had taken 17 pills. He had been to Coatesville V.A. hospital, Perry Point V.A. hospital, Rockford Center for extended periods numerous times. On December 29, 2014 I had taken him down to Perry Point V.A. hospital for a 21 day treatment stay.
He was released Jan.20th 2015 at 1030am with no phone call from him or a courtesy call from the hospital. All along we had been involved with his care and the hospital was aware of this. At about 430pm that evening my wife and I received a call from the Christiana Hospital telling us we needed to get to the hospital right away. All the rest is our worst nightmare….Stoney had OD’d on opiates. My son had taken his life. We would find this out later when we found a 4 page letter explaining his deep feelings. He stated in his letter: “I don’t know how these letters supposed to go. I have not given it much thought on how I would do this. To summarize what I am about to do – I want to emphasize these important points: 1. I love my family. I am sorry for what I am about to do. I am sorry for the pain I have caused. 2.I am extremely unhappy with my life. My relationship with my family is invaluable and I hold that above anything else. 3. I am not drunk high or out of my mind. I’ve given this a lot of thought. Probably over a year or more. I’ve been unhappy for a long time. So that’s that. I don’t want this letter to end. I know that once it does I have to actually do it. I’m scared. I realize what I am about to do is contradictory to my love for my family. But I think of this as pulling a tooth with no Novocaine. Yes it’s going to hurt like a mother! But the toothache will be gone and eventually you won’t even miss it. Wish you all a good life – I will miss you guys! Love Stoney”
As you can see the demons were relentless with my boy and he gave in to this nasty thing we call PTSD. It is so sad we lose so many of our veterans each and every day. My wife and I at first thought how selfish he was to do what he did but after thinking back we realized how sad a state he had been in for a long time. He had fought a hard battle, but we pray now that he is finally safe and sound. My son died on his own battlefield. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is to us. We shall remember not his death but his daily victories gained through his kindness and thoughtfulness. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had. Our son, after 9 days on life support, went to be with the Lord. He was a Gift of Life donor. We granted his wishes and his organs went to many family’s loved ones who needed them to survive. Not only did my son serve his country in time of need, he became a hero for all the families who benefited from his good heart and thoughtfulness. Way to go big guy – May you rest in peace, my son!!!! Please let us learn that we all are in this together: doctors, counselors, and the families to make this fight against PTSD more successful.
To the family of Stoney Graves, I am sorry for your loss and the pain you have had to endure. It is inspiring that you have chosen to be brave in this tragic situation, sharing your experience and journey of grief with others so they may have hope. My running will not bring you your son back, but I want you to know, I consider it my privilege to help keep the memory of your son alive by running the Bermuda Marathon with his name and picture on my back. My only regret is that I’m coming off my knee injury, and I know that I will not be running this at my optimum level. But I hope you know I am still running with all the passion, desire and heart to cross that finish line strong for both you and for your son. While I know this is just a small effort to keep your son’s light shining brightly in the world, I hope it brings you comfort that others, like me, are memorializing him in this way. I personally want to do this so that his service to his country and the tragedy of his death can possibly help someone else as they battle their demons during and after service. I thank you for this opportunity. I promise to share your son with others so they too can remember him.
If you would like to run with 22 Too Many, please visit their website and contact them directly. Sadly, their list of heroes they remember continues to grow daily, and they are always in need of other runners who will help carry these heroes on their backs. I look forward to running for PFC Graves and any others that 22 Too Many sends my way.
What inspiration do you carry when you run? What stories would you share about who you are running for?