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  • Thursday, September 22, 2016

    Finishing as a Team at Patriot Highlander Challenge

    By Mark Seavey
    legion.org

    Three miles doesn’t seem like all that long a distance, until you are running that far through the hilly countryside of Cobleskill, N.Y., with wounded veterans. The 13 obstacles spread out along the course at roughly quarter-mile intervals don’t make it any easier.

    “We start as a team, and we’ll finish as a team, that’s all that matters.”

    Veteran of Honor Ryan Major, center

    Veteran of Honor Army Sgt. Ryan Major, center, and Adaptive Sports Foundation teammates clear the final obstacle in the 2016 Patriot Highlander Challenge in Cobleskill, NY. Photo by Kyle Adam

    That was the mantra of our team representing the Adaptive Sports Foundation (ASF), and coaches Jimmer Hayes and Kardin Rabin repeated it during each pre-race meetings and as we made our way recently around the Patriot Highlander Course. Named after the Revolutionary War Patriots who fought in the valleys of Schoharie County, N.Y., the 2016 Patriot Highlander Challenge drew 600 runners, 100 volunteers and 300 spectators from around the area on Sept. 17.

    Featuring races of 6 miles, 3 miles and a kids run of 1 mile, each of the courses was covered in patriotic themed obstacles. It began with the “Liberty Slide” (a roughly 100-foot slip and slide) and ended with “Delaware Crossing” which was a swim across a roughly 100-yard pond with guide ropes. Along the way were rope climbs, 10-foot walls to be cleared, monkey bars, A-frame climbs and numerous mud pits. One stop even had participants doing a caber toss.

    Gary Schacher

    Gary Schacher

    The Challenge is the brainchild of Legionnaires Kirk Holmes and Gary Schacher of Timothy Murphy Post 248 in Middleburgh, NY. Holmes is a lieutenant colonel in the Army, while Schacher is the American Legion Department of New York Membership chairman. Holmes’ family generously offered the use of their “Sunny Knolls Farm” which donated the land and resources to host the Patriot Highlander Challenge over the last three years. It took over a year to complete building the course, and it was largely completed by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Holmes was also the “Distinguished Military Graduate” from his alma mater The Citadel, from which he graduated in 1994. Some of the volunteers at this year’s event were Holmes’ classmates from F Troop from that year.

    Schacher is a retired chief petty officer in the Navy who believes that events like these are a no brainer for The American Legion.  “Veterans for veterans,” he said “and We Are The American Legion, so this is something we should always be involved in.”

    In addition to offering a fun time for families in the area, the Patriot Highlander Challenge also provides monetary support for state-of-the-art adaptive sports equipment and helps wounded veterans participate in ASF events promoting physical, psychological and emotional well-being.

    ASF serves disabled veterans through its Warriors in Motion program that offers a variety of sports to disabled veterans, and also has a large adaptive ski school which offers programs for children with cancer.

    Hayes serves as the assistant program director of the Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, N.Y. His introduction into the adaptive sports world was at the 2005 Winter Empire State Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., where as a volunteer he co-taught a 16-year-old girl with a traumatic brain injury how to ski and assisted her down a race course where she won gold. Since that fateful day, he has become a ski instructor and the winter program consultant for the Double H Ranch Adaptive Winter Sports Program, a ski instructor and adaptive trainer at Gore Mountain (North Creek, N.Y.), a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America Adaptive and Alpine Education Staffs and the assistant program director for the Adaptive Sports Foundation. He and his wife also volunteer each year at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic held in Snowmass, Colo.

    The “Challenger of Honor” for this year’s event was retired Army Sgt. Ryan Major.

    “I joined the Army after graduating high school in 2003,” Major says. “My unit was 1/36th Infantry Regiment (‘Spartans’) out of Friedberg, Germany. We deployed to Tal Afar and Ramadi Iraq in January of 2006. Eleven months into the deployment I was hit by an IED in Ramadi resulting in amputations of my legs and several digits on both hands. After struggling with depression I found my way back to athletics which has and is still helping me heal.

    “Being part of a team to accomplish a mutual goal is what I loved most about the military,” Major continued. “The Patriot Highlander Challenge helped me see that once again. The camaraderie that I have missed was there again as we all helped each other get through difficult obstacles as well as lending a hand to other athletes from other teams get through.”

    To Jennifer Allen, a combat medic with the 101st Airborne who deployed to Iraq in 2005, the challenges and being outdoors play a crucial role in her coping.

    “The only time I’m able to stop my mind from roaming to the sands of Iraq is when I’m active and outside in nature,” she said. “It’s the only place where I’m able to find some kind of peace, or a way to settle this constant static in my brain. When I look down at my hands there is this red blood that I haven’t been able to wash away for 10 years.”

    She gets emotional recalling how the team was “able to help less fortunate veterans who have lost their upper and lower limbs. We climbed, pushed, dug, and rolled doing whatever we had to do, working together to get each other across the finish line.”

    Linda Mckinnis, an Army veteran from both Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and a Legionnaire, participated in the event despite severe PTSD and knee injuries. “I may be disabled,” she said, “but I am able to live.”

    “I really enjoy coming out to these events” said Orlando Miranda, an Army sergeant first class who continues to serve in the New Jersey National Guard after a deployment to Iraq in 2003. “It gives me a chance to interact with our fellow veterans and we preach what team work is all about, never leave a comrade behind! It’s my second time doing this race, and the best feeling is how our group overcame different challenges throughout the race.”

    Hayes agreed. “The 10 veterans of the Adaptive Sports Foundation Warriors in Motion team truly lived up to the definition of the word ‘team’ by setting aside their respective individual disabilities and goals in order to work together to achieve their team goal of starting and finishing the 3-mile obstacle and mud filled course together!”

    “Even though the obstacle course itself was a huge accomplishment for me being my first since my injury, I’d have to say that crossing the finish line as a team was the most rewarding for me,” concluded Major.