HOHENFELS, Germany -- As the official kick-off event to one of the United States' premier marathons, the fourth annual City of Philadelphia Marathon /U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels First Wave Race allowed participants here the opportunity to connect with runners back in America by providing the countdown that will start the Nov. 18 race.
"Next weekend, there will be about 30,000 runners toed up on the starting line of the Philadelphia marathon, kind of like you guys are now," Rob Powers told the gathered runners at Hohenfels, Nov 8. "They get sent off that start line by you!"
Powers, also known as "America's Voice of Running," is a former Olympic athlete and coach as well as founder of American300 Tours, the nonprofit organization that has worked with Mayor Michael Nutter and City of Philadelphia marathon race director Melanie Johnson, to support the kickoff event in Germany over the past four years.
As one of the co-hosts of the race in Philadelphia, Powers has seen up-close the reaction the troops' countdown garners every year.
"There are about 100,000 people there live, not counting the television audience," Powers said. "By the time (Hohenfels) gets to three, you can't even hear them anymore. The crowd literally goes nuts."
Lt. Col. John J. Strange Jr., USAG Hohenfels commander, started the countdown with words that echo American300 Tours resiliency message.
"To all the runners in Philadelphia and all those who have weathered Hurricane Sandy, our hearts and minds are with you today. Keep on running!" he said.
Hohenfels' connection with the marathon isn't limited to the starting line, though. Powers said that at Mayor Nutter's reception on the eve of the race every year, a slideshow featuring photos from the First Wave race is shown to community leaders, race sponsors, visiting dignitaries and international members of the press.
"I've been announcing races since 1988 and I've never come across a mayor in all those years and all those hundreds of races that cares so deeply about those who serve in our armed forces, in my opinion, as Mayor Michael Nutter," said Powers.
The 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, Delta Company carried a 9/11 remembrance flag through the five kilometers of the First Wave event. This same flag has been carried in several marathons and across thousands of miles by Team Red, White and Blue member Brian Kline, who will also carry it through the 26.2 miles of the Philadelphia course.
"(Kline) carries that flag when he's training, also," Powers said. "People will literally stop, honk horns and thank him for insuring that we never forget."
"It's going to be a heartfelt moment watching Brian's flag coming across both finish lines this year," he added.
Team Red, White and Blue's mission mirrors that of the American300 Tours which is an all volunteer organization dedicated to increasing the resiliency of our troops, their families and the communities in which they live and operate. Powers said it's all about connections; connecting the troops with home, stateside communities with the faces and stories of those who keep them safe, and connecting great Americans who have a message of resiliency to share with the Soldiers.
"We take folks who have been there and done that and have them share their stories of how they got through their own trauma -- being hit by a drunk driver, getting blown up by an IED," said Powers. "By offering our Soldiers different perspectives from people who have continued on despite overwhelming adversity, it can give them food for thought on how to overcome their own challenges."
A marathon seems an appropriate metaphor to the resiliency message.
"Life's got a lot of obstacles," said Strange. "But it's about the marathon -- completing it, enjoying it, despite all the trials that you might suffer. It's about -- keep on running."
Adding emphasis to that sentiment, Strange presented Powers with a U.S. storm flag to be passed on to Mayor Nutter and the city of Philadelphia.
"Our flag flies 24/7 over the JMRC headquarters, and a storm flag is flown during inclement weather," said Strange. "I think it's appropriate that we pass this on to the City of Philadelphia for weathering Hurricane Sandy."
Hohenfels Post Gym Fitness Coordinator Emma Lawson scored the fastest female time of the 5K First Wave race with 22:40, while fastest overall was claimed by Boston Marathon veteran Staff Sgt. Steven Phillips at 17:00.
"It's a really great thing to have Philadelphia supporting this and allowing us the opportunity to voice ourselves at the beginning of the race," said Phillips.