San Diego Marathon Memories

June 4, 2011

When Janine met me at the San Diego Convention Center where I had gone to pick up my bib at the marathon expo, it bought back memories from old times when and I was still a junior officer onboard USS John. C. Stennis, and Janine was a roving reporter for the Union Tribune.  I vividly recall the bittersweet moment of bidding farewell to her while the Stennis set sail towards a zone of uncertainty and danger in the aftermath of 9/11.

Janine’s catapult launch off aboard a C2 Greyhound was a truly unforgettable experience. As she prepared for takeoff, she braced herself for the intense G-forces that would accompany the launch. The sensation of being propelled from the deck, facing aft, created a unique and somewhat amusing feeling. It was an adrenaline-filled moment that combined excitement and awe entwined with a sense of sadness.

The following day, Janine, her husband Jari, and I started the Rock-n-Roll Marathon together, but our paths diverged as the race progressed. Despite Jari recently completing an Ironman and Janine recovering from a plantar fasciitis injury, they both achieved personal records. 

Jari & Janine just prior to the Race

It was one of my slowest marathons, but my primary goal wasn’t to set a personal record. Instead, I aimed to connect with people, attentively listening to their stories. This approach enabled me to gain insights from their experiences, understand their struggles, and establish profound relationships.

LT Florence Choe

The event was also special to me because I was running in memory of a special friend. For nearly two years, I had the honor to work with LT Florence Choe at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. Flo, who worked as a health care administrator for Medical and Surgical Services, was always giving of herself whether or not it was her responsibility to do so.  She was very supportive of the corpsmen assigned to the Medical Evaluation (MedEvac) teams who made regular runs to Joint Base Andrews to bring our Wounded Warriors home.

Almost daily, I would pass by her office and became inspired by her calm demeanor and radiant smile leaving an indelible and lasting impression on my mind. Flo was always offering of her services taking pride in her work and supporting her Chiefs and Corpsmen, both in her department and throughout the hospital.

In 2009, Florence made a courageous decision to volunteer for a year-long deployment to Afghanistan as an “individual augmentee.” During her deployment, she took on the responsibility of running the medical station, providing essential care to U.S. and Afghan troops and civilians.

Tragically, on March 27, 2009, while taking an afternoon jog on the outskirts of Forward Operating Base Shaheen with a fellow Sailor, a Seabee, their lives were forever altered. An Afghan insurgent, disguised as an Afghan National Army soldier, raised his weapon and shot Florence and her companion, along with a third military officer who miraculously survived the attack.

This devastating incident left behind Florence’s loving family—a young daughter and her husband, who also served as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Navy. Florence was a fervent advocate and supporter of the United Through Reading program. She understood the significance of providing troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with access to children’s books and the means to record and send home their heartfelt readings to their families.

After Florence’s passing, her family received a poignant reminder of her beautiful spirit. In the mail, they began receiving the DVDs she had recorded before her death. Her husband and daughter found comfort and joy in watching these recordings, cherishing their moments with her and basking in her warm smile that radiated through the videos.

Florence’s legacy lives on through her selfless service, her dedication to supporting her fellow service members, and her love for her family. Her commitment to United Through Reading continues to touch the lives of those serving far from home, leaving an enduring impact on the hearts of many.

Memorial service for LT Choe held at Naval Medical Center, San Diego

As I embarked on the marathon route through the vibrant streets of San Diego, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation and excitement. The race commenced at the iconic Petco Park, where the cheers of the crowd and the sound of enthusiastic music set the stage for the adventure ahead.

As the course wound through downtown, the bustling city life provided a dynamic backdrop to the run. Skyscrapers reached for the sky, and the hum of traffic intermingled with the cheers of spectators lining the sidewalks, their encouraging words fueling my determination. I couldn’t help but glance up at the majestic buildings that towered above, admiring the sleek architectural wonders that make San Diego’s skyline so captivating.

Reaching Harbor Drive, the refreshing breeze from the nearby San Diego Bay enveloped the course, providing a pleasant reprieve from the exertion. The glistening waters of the bay danced in the sunlight, offering a serene view that contrasted with the energy of the race.

As I continued, I found myself in Hillcrest, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood known for its unique charm. The cheers of supporters echoed through the streets, uplifting the runners and creating a sense of camaraderie among us all. However, the infamous CA-163 hill loomed ahead, and it proved to be a challenging stretch. The hill’s steep ascent put my stamina to the test, but I drew inspiration from the determination of my fellow runners who pressed on beside me.

Cresting the hill, a sense of accomplishment washed over me as the course led into the heart of San Diego’s cultural gem, Balboa Park. The rich greenery and architectural splendors of the park surrounded us, offering a serene and picturesque setting. The lush palm trees lined the path, casting shadows on the pavement as a reminder of the city’s laid-back charm.

The last few miles of the marathon were a triumphant descent, as the course wound its way back to downtown. The excitement was palpable as we approached the Gaslamp Quarter, where the cheers of the crowd and lively music filled the air. The energy of the Block Party embraced us as we made our way to the finish line.

As I crossed that final milestone, a wave of elation and pride swept over me. The marathon had been a journey through the heart and soul of San Diego—its bustling streets, stunning waterfront, diverse neighborhoods, and iconic landmarks—all intertwined into an experience that I will forever treasure.

It was a remarkable revelation that in just five hours during the marathon, I had witnessed more of San Diego than I had in the previous five years of living there. The experience had taken me on an exhilarating journey through the city’s diverse neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, and scenic waterfront, leaving an indelible impression on my mind.

Although both Jari and Janine had finished the marathon over an hour before me, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of admiration for their incredible athleticism and determination. They had already returned to their homes in the picturesque area of La Mesa by the time I crossed the finish line, celebrating their well-earned achievements.

Janine’s performance was particularly awe-inspiring, as she came remarkably close to qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon—an accomplishment that most runners aspire to throughout their careers. Her impressive performance was a testament to her dedication, hard work, and unwavering commitment to her passion for running. It was evident that she was on the brink of achieving this extraordinary feat in the near future, and I couldn’t help but feel proud of her progress and perseverance.

As I reflected on the day’s events, I realized that the marathon was about much more than just a physical test of endurance. It was an opportunity to connect with the city I called home, to explore its diverse tapestry, and to witness the shared enthusiasm of fellow runners and spectators alike. The marathon had united people from all walks of life, transcending boundaries and forging lasting memories.

As I walked through the streets of San Diego after the race, a profound sense of accomplishment and gratitude washed over me. The experience had not only allowed me to complete a personal milestone but had also deepened my appreciation for the city’s beauty and the camaraderie of the running community.

In the coming days, I couldn’t help but look back at the moments spent with Jari and Janine, their inspiring performances, and the sense of unity that permeated the entire marathon. Their achievements had served as a motivating force, spurring me to set new goals and to embrace the city even further.

The San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon had been an unforgettable chapter in my life—a journey of self-discovery, a celebration of the city’s vibrant spirit, and a testament to the incredible resilience and determination of those who ran alongside me. It was an experience that had left an indelible mark on my heart, compelling me to continue exploring, growing, and embracing life’s adventures with open arms.

The San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon became an unforgettable and inspiring chapter in my life. Witnessing Jari and Janine’s remarkable performances and experiencing the sense of unity among the runners left an indelible mark on my heart. Their achievements motivated me to set new goals and embrace life’s adventures wholeheartedly.

During the marathon, I ran with a higher purpose, dedicating my efforts to my dear friend Florence, a true hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to others. When people asked about my reason for running, I proudly shared Flo’s story, her unwavering bravery, and her significant contributions. The marathon became more than just a race; it transformed into a celebration of the city’s vibrant spirit and a poignant tribute to the incredible resilience and determination of all, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This experience instilled in me a profound appreciation for life and a burning inspiration to keep exploring, growing, and running with an open heart, honoring the memory of Flo and embracing each moment with gratitude.