Leslie Mayne, organizer of the Race for a Soldier, listens to vendors during a meeting held at Gig Harbor's YMCA Sept 26. The race on Oct. 16 will feature a half marathon, two-mile run and a Kids Fun Run.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Leslie Mayne took her personal tragedy and turned it into one of her greatest joys with a way to honor and help others.

Mayne lost her son Pfc. Kyle Farr in 2009. Farr suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after returning from a deployment to Iraq in 2006.

The day after his release from the Perry Point Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Maryland, Farr overmedicated himself and was found dead in a Baltimore hotel room.

Mayne grieved and sank into a depression following the loss of her son, but as she began to heal she learned she could make good come out of her loss.

Mayne is the founder of the inaugural Race for a Soldier Half Marathon. The race is Oct. 16 in Gig Harbor.

"I think this was born in me a long time ago," Mayne said. "I get to play it out now and I'm very grateful for the opportunity."

Mayne wanted to create something locally that could plug the civilian community in to helping Soldiers affected by PTSD and TBI. With a variety of 2K, 5K and 10K races already offered, she wanted to start an event that could stand out. She approached Miguel Galeana, owner of Route 16 Running and Walking in Gig Harbor. Galeana had wanted to organize a half marathon in Gig Harbor for some time, but didn't have the right cause to put together such a race. But he found it in Mayne.

"I know the civilian world wants to find ways to reach out to our Soldiers more than they do and they need an opportunity. They need someone to make that happen," Mayne said.

Mayne found the encouragement and faith to take on such a project last year while working at Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor. She was asked how the restaurant could recognize the military. With three weeks of preparation the staff put together a lunch for 81 soon-to-be deployed Soldiers. The community rallied together and the restaurant reached maximum capacity.

"I put it out there to God and said, 'If we can do this in three weeks time, if I was given more time, what more could I do and how could I make it more meaningful?'" Mayne said.

It was during that time Mayne began to run to process her pain, and in January she had her first meeting to put together a race. Every month since then, the race planners have met every month and little by little they pieced together a half marathon that so far has attracted more than 1,200 entries. There are also 400 volunteers on stand-by, ready to be plugged in wherever needed on race day.

Race for a Soldier has become Mayne's project this year as she nailed down title sponsorship from Evergreen Asset Management in Gig Harbor and lined up a nonprofit organization in the USO. Mayne also worked to find mile sponsorships for each of the 13.1 miles, except Mile 9 -- Kyle's Mile. Mayne paid for Mile 9 for her son, which she plans to walk on race day.

Mayne has poured her heart and time into Race for a Soldier to help benefit local programs that support Soldiers' well-being like Puget Sound area USO, Heartbeat Serving Wounded Warriors, Rainier Therapeutic Riding and Canines and Heroes for Independence. The long-term goal is to take Race for a Soldier to other parts of the country with a strong military community.

"Race for a Soldier resonates with people," Mayne said. "The VA can't do it alone. We train our warriors and we train them well and they go out and serve and fight for our country and they're expected to come back and shed their warrior clothes like nothing ever happened. We have an obligation."

Mayne believes PTSD should stand for Permission to Start Dreaming, which is the name of the nonprofit organization she is working on starting up.

The race weekend will be a grand affair. Oct. 14 will be a prayer breakfast with guest speakers and the Total Gospel Experience at the Hope Center in Gig Harbor. The following day Tides will host a pasta dinner the eve of the race.

Mayne will be out at 4 a.m. setting up the course while her other three children prepare to run the race. Mayne's brother Kenny Mayne of ESPN will be the announcer and American Idol Season 6 finalist Sanjaya will perform.

Soldiers will hand out specially designed dog tags to all race finishers and special military coins will be given to the top 40 finishers.

The race will also feature a children's fun run. The children will line up in the shoot leading to the finish line holding 500 American flags.

"In my own personal journey with God walking me through the darkness, this is a love letter to him," Mayne said. "I get a chance to honor Kyle and honor our Soldiers."

Somer Breeze-Hanson: somer.breeze-hanson@nwguardian.com

Page last updated Thu September 29th, 2011 at 17:57