UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, Middle East --
Each year in the United States approximately 1,500 babies are born with spinal bifida and approximately 764,000 children and adults manifest one or more symptoms of cerebral palsy. Both of these conditions may affect a person’s mobility and ability to control their body. Marines deployed in the Middle East with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command partnered with a non-profit organization to sponsor children with spinal bifida and cerebral palsy during a 5k Turkey Trot Nov. 23, 2017. The Marines running in the event each represented a person with one of these conditions.
Traditionally, participants push the wheelchairs of the children during races to give them the sensation of the wind in their face and the thrill of the race. Being deployed removed pushing the wheelchairs as an option, so the Marines wore photos of the people they represented as they ran the 5k. The non-profit also provided short biographies of every person the Marines represented so they could learn more about them.
“I ran my first race in 2016 and after seeing how excited the children were I was immediately hooked,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan D. Eaton, mobility officer, Command Element, SPMAGTF-CR-CC. “It was an incredible opportunity to be able to represent children with spinal bifida and cerebral palsy in this Turkey Trot.”
Thirty-two Marines with the SPMAGTF-CR-CC participated in the race, and sponsoring the children helped them raise awareness and gave insight to other runners about cerebral palsy and spinal bifida.
To Sgt. Emmanuel Gonzalez, embarkation chief, CE, SPMAGTF-CR-CC, this race was very close to his heart. Gonzalez’s son was diagnosed with spinal bifida before he was born.
“My son, Marco, is now two-years old and has spinal bifida. I ran this Turkey Trot because it was a reminder that we, at times, take things for granted,” explained Gonzalez. “You see these kids or adults, with disabilities living their life to the fullest and it gives me inspiration to keep pushing forward.”
When his son was diagnosed Gonzalez was forward-deployed, and he worked to learn as much as he could about spinal bifida.
“I was very much blind to all of this before my son, so my wife and I did a lot of research to be prepared,” said Gonzalez. “All I want is for Marco to be able to enjoy every second of his life. Having the opportunity to run this race meant the world to me.”
The children were excited when they found out the Marines deployed were going to run for them, said Eaton.
“People usually remember that Secretary of Defense James Mattis once said, ‘there is no worse enemy than a United States Marine,’” said Eaton. “but he also said there is no better friend, and hopefully this run reminded people of that.”