To Honor and Remember
Montgomery County runners aim to memorialize military veterans
Runners Dayna Harrison (left) and Keri Jacobs started 22 Too Many to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.
At last year’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon, Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCRRC) member Wendy Young finished the 13.1-mile run in tears. It was a different experience than her usual race. This time she had signed up to run in memory of Michelle Langhorst, a former Army staff sergeant she’d never met who had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the finish line, Langhorst’s sister, Nicole, went wild when she saw Young, and the race emcee gave Nicole the opportunity to share Michelle’s story. Young recalls, “Nicole later posted [on Facebook] about how important it was to say that stuff out loud for other people to hear.”
Since 2013, 75 runners from Montgomery County and 1,500 runners from across the country have completed 5Ks, half marathons, marathons and even Ironman Triathlons—more than 150 events in 2016—in memory of military veterans who have taken their own lives. They’re running with the nonprofit 22 Too Many, started by Dayna Harrison and Keri Jacobs. The two friends became committed to raising awareness about PTSD and providing veterans’ families with support. They also wanted to do their part to help change a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs estimate that an average of 22 veterans of the military die by suicide each day (a number that was adjusted to 20 in a 2016 report). “We thought, ‘That’s 22 too many,’ ” Jacobs says, “so that’s what we called ourselves.”
Jacobs, 56, who lived in Silver Spring for 30 years before moving to Raleigh, N.C., this summer, is a church music coordinator and pianist, and her son, Scott, served in the U.S. Air Force from 2009 to 2013. During his service, she’d joined an online support group in which one of the women’s sons, Andrew Wilson, suffered from PTSD. Harrison, 47, of Potomac, works as an analyst for the Treasury Department. She’s a U.S. Navy veteran, and over the years she’s seen the effects of PTSD on relatives who also served.
Jacobs and Harrison first ran for veterans in December 2012 at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon, the names and pictures of three Army veterans pinned to their backs. They were running for Wilson, and for Randy Abrams and Trever Gould, the sons of two other mothers they’d met. All three men served in conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan and suffered from PTSD. Next, Jacobs and Harrison recruited 11 runners to do the 2013 Rock ’n’ Roll D.C. Marathon for 11 heroes. Soon after, 22 Too Many was formed.
Now, there are some 200 soldiers on the nonprofit’s Facebook “Wall of Heroes,” their stories chronicled by family members who give the group permission to run for them. Runners select soldiers from the wall, and Jacobs and Harrison send the runners photos and bios of the heroes. Runners, in turn, mail their medals and personal notes to the heroes’ families.
The first time Ben Guthrie, 43, of Brookeville received a medal from a runner who honored his father, Marine Corps veteran John Guthrie, he drove to Virginia Beach to hand-deliver it to his uncle. Guthrie, a MCRRC member, runs for others, too. He’s sent 10 medals, including two from Ironman Triathlons, to heroes’ families. “For a marathon, you’re spending four hours with an individual,” he says. “It really is a time of personal reflection and reflection about the person you’re carrying.”