By Chris Rasmussen, Fort Jackson LeaderMarch 31, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- First Lt. Sophie Hilaire set a Guinness World Record for women running in full battle gear and has competed in numerous marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
But it isn't fame or solely personal achievement that drives the Soldier. She does it to support charities aimed at service members and their families.
So far, Hilaire, executive officer for Company A, 187th Ordnance Battalion, has raised more than $10,000 for different charities running in marathons.
"I have always run my races in support of military charities, an obvious choice to me since it is such a massive part of me and my family's life," said Hilaire, who is currently training to compete in the Death Race, a 24-hour adventure race described as "'Survivor meets 300.'"
"When I noticed the website for it was youmaydie.com, I knew I had to do it," Hilaire said. "I am constantly on the search for new and challenging things. I just like to stay fit and have goals."
She plans on donating the money she raises competing in the Death Race to the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund.
"I have requested the funds I raise be restricted to college scholarships for children who have a parent killed in action while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom," she said. "I believe anyone with the drive to further his or her education should be able to, and someone with the obstacle of a parent KIA is a scenario I cannot even begin to comprehend."
Hilaire, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in business management and a minor in environmental engineering, began her quest for athletic adventures by training for half and then full marathons. But she wasn't always a runner.
"When I did my first PT test I wasn't a runner. I ran two miles in about 21 minutes," she said. "But I was able to cut that time down in half by getting on a program and training for marathons."
After running in a few marathons, Hilaire decided to raise the bar and attempt to set the Guinness record for fastest marathon time for a woman wearing full battle gear. She chose the Philadelphia Marathon and set the record Nov. 22, 2009 with a time of 4 hours and 54 minutes. The previous record was held by a British soldier who finished in 5 hours and 11 minutes.
Breaking the record meant Hilaire had to wear an Army Combat Uniform, boots, Army Combat Helmet and protective vest with full body armor.
"It added about a third of my body weight. But it wasn't that bad," she said. "I was most worried about running in the boots because they would be too heavy. But I found a Nike version (of the boots) and they worked well."
She was able to raise more than $1,500 from the event for the non-profit organization American Veterans with Brain Injuries.
"I read about the founder's son, Pfc. Chris Lynch. He was a runner who suffered a brain injury and lost his coordination to a point he could no longer run," she said. "Now he trains and competes in marathons on a hand cycle.
"It made sense to raise money for American Veterans with Brain Injuries while running in combat gear to generate awareness of this cause," she said.
The peak of Hilaire's marathon career came in 2010 when she completed the Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 29 minutes.
"Finishing it was a huge deal for me because I used to be that girl who couldn't run. It was something I really had to work for," she said. "It was such an emotional event that when I was done I wanted to do something different."
In comes the Death Race, a grueling endurance event that pits 200 competitors in the woods of Vermont against nature and man-made obstacles, such as diving into an icy river to retrieve a heavy rock, climbing a mountain carrying two buckets of water or dismantling a 500-pound hiking trail bridge and carrying it down the mountain before putting it back together.
"The race is very extreme, and we wanted the name to be extreme as well," race founder Andy Weinberg said. "We are putting people in situations where they have to fight. The race is about not giving up. You have to push yourself mentally, physically and emotionally if you want to finish."
The course could entail anything and it changes every year. Only 10 percent who start the course finish.
"I will finish," Hilaire said. "Giving up is not an option. Physically, the fact that it lasts 24 hours will be a challenge in itself. Mentally, the will to continue moving forward is a test.
"They will also have tests that involve memorizing a list of the first 10 presidents' full names, which you get at the top of a mountain hike, then recite it verbatim at the bottom of the hike."
Hilaire, who trains morning, noon and night for the race, credits her command team for allowing her the time to get into the gym.
"I think she has a lot of intestinal fortitude to do this race," said Capt. Bryan Austin, commander of Co. A, 187th. "Her physical ability to train and still have the energy to come in and do her job is second to none. She is an outstanding Soldier."