The 24th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March an Experience of a Lifetime
The 24th Annual Memorial Death March
I participated in my first Bataan Memorial Death March in 2005. I was a Soldier and a Drill Sergeant. I was a different person. The Bataan Memorial Death March is one of the toughest marathons in the United States. I returned this year to prove that the spirit of a Soldier still remained a part of me. I wanted to share with my children my love for this country and its service members.
I wasnât sure I would finish but I wanted the challenge of merging my past life with the current.
This experience was very different from my previous marches. I was a civilian this time and a mother. This march was so much more than a walk through the desert. I had 26.2 miles to reconnect with a woman I have admired my entire life. My mother once again proved to be a pillar of strength and my biggest supporter. Walk with me as I take you on a journey of strength, perseverance and self-discovery.
Completing the Bataan Memorial Death March with my mother was an experience of a lifetime.
(Photos by Gina Birdsong unless noted)
The Night Before Bataan
It is easy to lose sight of the important things in life. They get lost somewhere between the hardships of daily life and growing older.
My mother and I decided that Bataan was something we wanted to experience together. She was looking for something to break up the monotony of a life with grown children and I needed reassurance that I could raise my children to be strong independent people.
My mother was worried about camping out and using porter johns. This was her first time sleeping outside. I was worried that I was going to discover that I wasn't the person I thought was.
We set up camp about 100 feet from the starting line. We giggled at the fact that our tent was smaller than all the others.
I fought to keep the tears back as a told my children goodnight over the phone. This was the first time I would not kiss their foreheads or tuck them in bed.
The wind threatened to lift our tent and leave us exposed to the elements. We snuggled in and prepared for a long night and an even longer day. The day was finally here.
The Day of the March
The Bataan Memorial Death March is a part of WWII history that has almost been forgotten. These men deserve for their stories to be told.
Participating in The Bataan Memorial Death March
My mother and I were relieved to see familiar faces at White Sands. SSG Montano and I were firefighters in the Army and had been stationed together most of our career.
We joked about our past experiences at The Bataan marathon. We both knew the difficulty of the route, but reassured my mother that she would not fall victim to dehydration and exhaustion. We had to stay positive.
The atmosphere was electric with excitement and anticipation as we joined the marchers at the foot of the mountain. The feeling of standing among 5,000 people gathered together is indescribable. We stood side by side in memory of those that fought and died for our freedom. The challenges we would confront on the march could not compare to the struggles and the losses they experienced at Bataan.
Opening Ceremony 24th Annual Bataan Death March
The Legacy of Bataan
White Sands Missile Range, NM
Experiencing Bataan With My Mom
It wasn't just the Soldiers I admired this time. I was focused on the woman beside me. She was strong and confident. I watched her take one step after another. I listened to her laughter as someone mentioned that we would never reach the top of the mountain. I watched her smile when we ran through the misters at mile 15.
Mile after Mile
Hitting the Wall at Mile 19
I didn't struggle until mile 19. I suddenly hit a brick wall. I felt nauseous and my scar from my cesareans sections was throbbing.
I took off my camel pack, closed my eyes and laid in the sand. A million thoughts ran through my head. Did I prepare enough for this march? Was it too soon to be doing this? I no longer knew my physical limitations. My children are young. They wouldn't understand if I had to go to the hospital. How would I feel if I could not continue? I had to get up! I couldn't be disqualified. My mother whispers "Gina, we have to finish this".
I will spare you the details of stomach cramps and the struggle of staying hydrated when you're nauseous. The last 7. 2 miles seemed endless but my mother and I continued one step at a time.
I suddenly felt like a child. My mom rubbed my back on the side of the road and encouraged me to continue. She reminded me that my children had been waiting nearly 24 hours to see me.
The final miles of Bataan stretch along a brick wall. The road is silent, each person lost in thought, struggling to finish.
It wasn't until the last mile of the march that I was able to return the favor.
I have walked thousands of miles in my lifetime but nothing prepared me for the last mile of this march. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. We turned the final corner only to see another stretch of wall. My mother turned and asked how much further. "We are almost there, we are so close". It was my turn to take the lead.
We did it!! 26.2 miles
The Finish Line
My mother and I crossed the finish line after 10 hours and 12 minutes of walking through the desert. It was awesome!
I immediately sought medical aid for dehydration. My mother walked to the van to see my children.
I was released by an Army medic after receiving an IV and a shot of Zofran for the nausea. I proudly walked to the van to embrace my family. I had enough adrenaline to last a lifetime.
The 24th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March is an experience I will never forget. I am so proud of my mother. She inspires me to be a better person and to continue enjoying every moment of this amazing life.
Registration for the 25th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March
I hope I have inspired you to participate in this amazing event.
- The Bataan Memorial Death March White Sands, NM
Registration for the next marathon will not open until March of next year but you really must check out the photos and the stories about the marathon.
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