15th Wing Public Affairs
9/25/2013 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- "Strong people are harder to kill, and more useful in general."
"The thought of that flag and what so many of our American heroes have pushed through made me want to challenge my personal limits," said Capt. Michael Kerschbaum, 96 ARS pilot, of his decision to take on the challenge. "When I think about how hard former POW retired Capt. Guy Gruters, and others like him, had to fight to survive every day for five years, I think how small of a challenge it actually is for me to try to just do my best to honor him and all the POW/MIA servicemembers and those killed in action."
The idea, however, was not unheard of as Airmen from throughout the 15th Wing participate in a 24 hour run each year in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The twist came when Kerschbaum waved off the opportunity to do his part by running only one hour, and pledged to run the entire 24.
He began his run at 6 a.m. on Sept. 19 and continued through the night until 6 a.m. Sept. 20, just before the start of the 15 WG POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony. Though falling a little short of his initial goal of 100 miles, he said he could not have been any more proud of the 65 he did complete and the amount of effort he gave over the 24 hours.
"Looking back at the event, I am absolutely thrilled with what I accomplished," said Kerschbaum. "Going in I thought I would be able to run farther because I had run other long distance runs faster and easier; however, I had never run such long distances in weather that was even close to as hot and sunny as that day was, which really took a lot out of me. It felt like the hottest day of the year!"
At the end of the day, Kerschbaum said it all came down to personal sacrifice and knowing he gave it his all.
"In a perfect world, I wouldn't have struggled with the heat so much and logged the 100 miles, but that was not the case," he said. "But it comes down to whether I gave my all or not, and I know without question I gave my all that day. There are many others who may have been able to run farther or faster but nobody could have tried harder. I think that part of what I wanted to show everyone is that effort does not require talent. I may not have set a world record, but I exceeded my personal record for the farthest I have ever run and I am proud of that."
Kerschbaum, tired of watching life from the sidelines, decided to "become the guy people tell their friends about and stop being the guy talking about him."
"I got really tired of talking about people I know, read about, or saw on TV who has done some amazing thing. It's not crazy to compete and to set high goals for yourself," he said. "I am not content to set an easy goal and know I did not have to work hard to achieve it. My goal might be extraordinarily high and as a result I might miss it sometimes, but when I get there, that is a feeling that you cannot replicate very easily."
In leading up to his big run Kerschbaum said he prepared both physically and mentally for the challenge.
"I trained for this daily by using constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity," he said. "I lifted heavy things, ran hard and fast, jumped, pressed, flipped, walked on my hands and any other activities I could think of."
Though he'd previously completed six marathons, one 50K, one 100K and a number of triathlons and CrossFit competitions, Kerschbaum said he knew this run would require extensive preparation because it was twice as long as any other competition he'd completed before.
So in addition to his physical preparations, he also began to mentally prepare for the task in front of him.
"My biggest act to prepare mentally was to make sure I would not be suffering alone in my challenge, he said. "My biggest supporters were my wife Mai and my 11 month old son Tatsuki who were there almost the entire time. I then sought out the help of my fellow brothers and sisters from the 96th to help take turns running with me, keep me going, tell me stories or just spread some positive energy. There is no way I would have gone as far as I did without each and every one of them. There are too many to name but I hope everyone I ran with knows how much I appreciate what they did."
For their part, the members of the 96th who supported Kerschbaum and the remembrance run, helped bring the total number of miles logged by the unit to 257.
Surprisingly, Kerschbaum said the most physically challenging part of his run turned out to be staying awake.
"I have a hard 9 p.m. bedtime even on the weekends," he said. "While this might help getting up to coach 5:30 a.m. workouts, it made the last nine hours of the event really difficult for me. Mentally, I felt great. I felt great the whole event. I was upbeat, positive, and excited to be a part of it."
However, it still wasn't an easy undertaking. And even with all the support, Kerschbaum said he still had to rely on his own thoughts and mental and physical strength to keep him going.
As the hours wore past and his momentum continued to propel him forward, Kerschbaum said he kept his eye on the goal by continuously reminding himself of the sacrifices so many who served before him made.
"I had so many thoughts during those 24 hours," he said. "I think my most prevalent thought was the servicemembers who we [the wing] were honoring with the run."
Reflecting back on the moment a few days later, Kerschbaum, who is still recovering from hip and knee pain after the run, said the experience reminds him of two important life lessons.
"The lessons to be learned from this experience are to keep pushing toward your goals, breaking down huge tasks into smaller manageable pieces if needed, and to make sure you're the friend who doesn't let your friends give up on their goals," he said. "Staff Sgt. Jerome Jefferson was never going to let me run alone and fail, not because that was the easiest thing for him, but because he knew how bad I wanted it. Your friends do not let you miss out on your goals. They challenge you when you make decisions that do not align with your goal. Challenge your friends, and do not make it easy for them to miss achieving what they desire. Call them out on maligned actions and do not accept weak excuses. I am so proud I finished the full 24 hours and none of my friends told me 'hey man just go home it would be easier.'"
Jefferson, 96th ARS boom operator evaluator and Kerschbaum's training mate, said there was never a doubt in his mind Kerschbaum would give his all for the run.
"Dedicated, motivated and determined are just a few words that describe Captain Kersch," he said. "He is a constant reminder that hard work pays off. He trains every day as if it is his last, leaving it all on the court, field, garage floor, or wherever he is training. When he told me he was going to run 100 miles in 24 hours I never questioned him, knowing if anything he would give it his all. Captain K did an incredible job running the POW/MIA run for 24 hours."
After having faced his biggest challenge head on, Kerschbaum said his personal victory lies not in how far he ran, but in what he accomplished.
"I am not an elite athlete in any sense of the word," he said. "But I promise you I worked as hard as possible and I tried my best which is relative to each athlete. I hope people recognize that you do not need to be the athlete who wins to also be the athlete who tried the hardest. If you are not the fastest, it does not negate the positive of what you did. Do not be afraid to put your goals and passions in front of others and show them how good you are today. It may inspire, motivate or awaken something in them too."