By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsOctober 17, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 17, 2018) -- Whenever Mary Ryan, a member of the Syracuse chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, talks with her father, he inevitably will ask whether she ran that day or not.
After running the inaugural Memorial to Monument Run - a 10.8-mile trek from Fort Drum to Watertown - in September, Ryan's reply was an excited, "Yes, I did ... for you!"
"Dad loves to hear about my running, the events, training and places it has taken me," Ryan said. "He is my favorite veteran, and I would do anything I could to support him and all the fellow service members that have supported our country."
Her father, Robert Huni, a Korean War veteran and lifelong North Country resident, has lived in the Black River area his entire life. Ryan said that her father's family relocated to Black River as a result of the Pine Camp development in the 1940s.
"Dad lived through the progression of Pine Camp, Camp Drum and now Fort Drum," she said. "The base had been opened to civilians for many years, and we would travel on base."
Ryan recalls trips with her five brothers and father onto post to pick blueberries, and they would swim at Remington Pond.
"We would travel through the base to visit his sister who lived in Natural Bridge," she said. "I had childhood friends who lived in the very old barracks in the early 70s. As a child, my brothers and I would ride our bikes all over base. As a teen, my twin brother worked at the commissary."
Her father, now 89, used to run a newspaper delivery route all over Black River, and now that he is no longer able to run, she wanted to run for him.
Ryan said that, while she has been active her entire life, she began challenging herself with triathlons and road races when she turned 50. She also took up snowshoeing in the winters.
"Dad takes pride in my running and tells me I get it from him," she said. "His nickname is Bucky, as he was quite slim and lithe in his youth. His family said he was no bigger round than buckwheat, so the nickname Bucky stuck."
Ryan's father ran track in school and told her how he made his own cleats by putting screws on the bottom of his shoes.
"Dad is an inspiration and the hardest working person I know," she said. "He was a steamfitter and would travel far away at times, such as Massena on a daily basis, and return the same day to get up far before dawn to do it all over again - out of his love for my mom, brothers and me."
She said that when she decided to run her first half marathon, Ryan found that Syracuse had a robust running community. She had the opportunity to meet and train with members of different running clubs. Ryan first became involved with the Syracuse Team RWB to support a local foundation for a fallen Marine and formally became a member last August.
A retired school teacher, Ryan said that when she heard about the Memorial to Monument Run, she was excited about an event that would take her back to a place that resonates so deeply in her family's history.
Running the nearly 11-mile trek that started at Memorial Park at Fort Drum and finished at the Honor the Mountain Monument at Thompson Park in Watertown was a trip down memory lane for Ryan.
"The North Country holds my heart and is forever considered home," she said. "The memorials and monuments display the honor and glory of the men and women who have served for our freedoms."
Ryan said that she hasn't been back on post since the 1980s, and she seized the chance to take in all the sights. She said that she couldn't help sharing her memories with fellow runners, to include other Team RWB members.
"I felt kind of bad as they were my captive audience as I told my life story and history of the Fort Drum area, the village, the rail to trail and Thompson Park," Ryan said. "I told them everything - about my bus ride onto post, the security measures, the group of runners who would be competing in the Army Ten-Miler, getting a picture with fellow RWB members from Watertown, Oswego and Syracuse, the speech from Maj. Gen. (Walter) Piatt (10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander), and the mayor of Watertown, the cannon start, and then all that I saw along the course."
Ryan said that she thanked all of the volunteers and firefighters along the route who supported the run, and she was thrilled to see the American flag raised on top of the fire truck at the bottom of Thompson Park.
"Climbing up Thompson Park hill was fun, as it brought back so many wonderful memories," she said. "Such a great, great day."
When Piatt heard about her experience at the event, he wanted to see if she would be interested in visiting Fort Drum again - but this time with her father. The division commander met them Oct. 17 at Memorial Park for a chat and presented them both with his commander's coin.
"You're the reason we had this run," he told them. "Your service and your lifelong attachment to this community - there are so many people who have these connections to Fort Drum in these communities, and this is why we want to open up our gates as much as we can."
Piatt invited them to take a tour of LeRay Mansion before they left post. Ryan said that they were ecstatic about returning to Fort Drum, and she looks forward to signing up for next year's run.
"My head is filled with treasured times and memories, and this event just made them much more vivid," she said. "For that, I am grateful and can't wait to run next year, hoping to bring many Syracuse runners with me."