Troops in Afghanistan will run to support Rochester race

Missouri Air National Guard members train in Afghanistan for Sunday's half-marathon that they€™ll be running in support of the Lace Up Against Breast Cancer half-marathon in Rochester.

The fourth annual Lace Up Against Breast Cancer half-marathon will be run starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, starting and finishing at Rochester Mayo High School.

At approximately the same time in Afghanistan (there's an eight-hour time difference), some members of the Missouri Air National Guard will run the same distance in support of the Rochester race.

"Our plan is to make a bib with Lace Up Against Breast Cancer — Afghanistan on it and wear pink shirts,'' said Jerry Blankenship of St. Louis, who is in Afghanistan on a one-year deployment.

Blankenship, 52, has  been working with the younger members of the troops who have struggled with their fitness test running scores.

"They have been working really hard and actually like running now,'' Blankenship said via e-mail.  "They have a goal to run a half-marathon before we leave Afghanistan.''


Their running track is a .4 mile road around the motor pool parking lot for armored vehicles and a helicopter landing pad. A half-marathon is 33.25 laps.

"After each lap we will put a hash mark on the bib so we don't lose count of laps,'' Blankenship said. "The road is very rough and helicopters are landing all day long throwing little pebbles at you and the wind from the helicopter almost blows you over. It is like running an obstacle course.''

There are five runners trying to finish the half-marathon, not counting Blankenship, who has finished a couple of marathons.

"A few more are going to run a 5K in order to support the idea. I have been trying to encouraging them to run to keep in shape and lose some weight. It is so exciting see how far they have came,'' he said.

"They hated to run and had a hard time passing their required 2-mile run. Now they are trying to run 13.1 miles. They are doing this without head phones and 33.25 laps, that is hard to concentrate.''

Blankenship was looking to book "his'' half-marathon on Valentine's Day, but that's a Monday and not many races are held on a weekday. 

He found the Rochester race on the internet. On a Sunday. Perfect.

"It supports what I wanted to run for,'' he said. "No one in my family has had breast cancer but both of my parents died of cancer. One of my best friends has breast cancer.''


Money raised in the Rochester race goes to cancer research at Mayo Clinic.

"We are not collecting any money,'' said Blankenship, "but we are running for the cause.''

Blankenship works for Boeing as a supplier program manager  and has a wife, two sons and two grandsons.

"We're on an agriculture mission, helping the Afghan farmers improve their farming techniques, water shed management and educate agriculture extension agents to help the farmers improve their crop production,'' he said.

His tour ends in June and "not a day too soon.''

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