Soldier Runs The Marathon For Wounded Vets

Army Capt. Michael Keilty trains at Camp Darulaman, 25 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 2, 2007. Keilty, who has been stationed outside of Kabul on a one-year tour, is going to use a few hours of his upcoming leave to run the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 18.(AP Photo/TakePride, Scott Simeon)
AP/TakePride, Scott Simeon
The course for the Philadelphia Marathon winds past historic buildings, through urban neighborhoods and between two rivers - terrain nothing like the dusty hills of Afghanistan, where Army Capt. Michael Keilty has been training for the race.

Keilty, who has been stationed outside of Kabul on a one-year tour, is going to use a few hours of his treasured two-week leave to run the 26.2-mile course on Sunday. So much for R&R.

But Keilty says it's for a good cause. He'll be pounding the pavement in his first marathon in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, a private veterans' assistance group based in Jacksonville, Fla.

"If I could help raise some money and, more importantly, awareness...to help these guys who've done so much for us, it would definitely be worth it," Keilty said Friday, by phone from New York. "We've become sort of desensitized by all these numbers of all these casualties. (On the news) it's just a number and then they move on to the weather."

Keilty, 30, of Plainview, N.Y., has been in Afghanistan since April as an embedded tactical trainer, working with members of the Afghan army to help it become a self-sufficient military force. He squeezed in marathon training at 5 a.m. each day, a routine made more difficult by the 6,500-foot altitude.

"The hills here are killer," Keilty wrote earlier this month in an e-mail interview from Afghanistan. "I run through the Afghan army camp so I often get amused looks from the Afghan soldiers."

The idea to run for the Wounded Warrior Project was born out of a really tough hill, he wrote.

"I was about to quit when I thought of all those wounded service members who no longer have the ability to walk or run," he wrote. "How could I give up when I still had two good legs?"

Keilty, who earned a Bronze Star in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan, is calling his run "A Race for Heroes." He is running it in memory of two Marines and a soldier who were alumni of his high school, Chaminade, in the Long Island suburbs of New York. All three died in Iraq.

Keilty is soliciting donations and raising funds through T-shirts sold by TakePride, a New York-based organization that aims to raise awareness of military service through a series of specialty shirts. So far, the effort has raised about $60,000, said TakePride co-founder Patrick Gray.

"Small gestures make all the difference in the world," Gray said. "Everybody wants the world to be peaceful...the difference is to take an action."

John Fernandez, a spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, attended West Point with Keilty. An injured Iraq vet himself, Fernandez expressed admiration for Keilty's focus and willingness to help others.

"He's got a heckuva marathon training environment," said Fernandez. "It takes someone with a big heart to keep this in mind while he's going through his own experiences in Afghanistan."

Keilty returned to the U.S. on Tuesday. It's been hard to train with the whirlwind of attention from family and friends, but he says he's gotten a few miles of running in, including around the reservoir in New York' s Central Park.

On Saturday, he plans to travel to Philadelphia where he said a group of 30 or 40 people is expected to cheer him on at the race the following day. He'll be one among 16,000 runners, a figure representing the total field for three races held Sunday - the marathon, half-marathon and 8-kilometer run.

Philadelphia's course is considered fast and flat. If Keilty finishes in less than 3 hours, 10 minutes, he'll meet his personal goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon - a race famous for its "Heartbreak Hill."

The hills of Afghanistan should give him excellent practice.