NATCA Running Finishes Keys 100 in 17 Hours
Thursday, May 24, 2012

From left to right: Bryan Collier, Kevin Quinlan, Jose Sifuentes, Ruth Stilwell, Brian Fryer, Ken Norberg, Marcy Scott, Michelle Serrott, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Steven Russell

This past weekend, the time finally came for the NATCA Running relay team to run the Keys 100, the last leg for John Pyle and the Patriot Run Across America. With Pyle's historic run across the country now complete, NATCA has now reached 75 percent of its $25,000 goal for the Wounded Warrior Project. And with Memorial Day this weekend, wouldn't it be great to honor those who have served our country by raising that last 25 percent? Please make your tax-deductible donation here to help reach $25,000 to this important cause.

The race began Saturday, May 19, 2012 in Key Largo at 6:00 a.m. where relay teams got a ten-minute lead before the 145 individual runners began the race. In addition to the 50-mile and 100-mile individual runners, NATCA Running was one of 111 relay teams competing in the race. NATCA Running beat their team goal to finish before midnight by more than an hour, finishing that night at 10:50 p.m.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi joined the effort on Saturday by running with NATCA member and Air Force Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, Brian Fryer, for the first three miles and approximately a mile-and-a-half with Pyle himself just before he had to leave for NATCA in Washington.

"John is an inspirational man in everything that he's doing," said Rinaldi. "I really think that military men and women have given so much for us and this is our way to be able to give back to them."

The relay team included six runners: Bryan Collier, Brian Fryer, Ken Norberg, Kevin Quinlan, Jose Sifuentes and Ruth Stilwell, primary driver Marcy Scott and team nutritionist/photographer Michelle Serrott. Traveling in a rented white van, they set out on a nearly 17-hour journey to run 100 miles. The team also included two volunteers on the ground, Martha Delgado and Steven Russell, who manned aid stations on behalf of NATCA Running.

Stilwell said although the relay team members had never run together before and some had just met each other for the first time that weekend, everyone had a strong, dynamic energy throughout their adventure. Through early downpours, flooded trails and extreme heat, the team kept a positive spirit.

"Everyone did a great job looking out for one another and focusing on the needs of the runner out on the course," said Stilwell. "There was one moment, 87 miles in, when the team's energy was way down. But then Jose, our runner from PASS, reached his last exchange point and waived off his relief, announcing, 'I'm going another mile,' and the team energy went through the roof. The relief runner ran across the highway, cheering, 'Get in the van - he is going another mile! We have to be quick because he won’t take long!'"

Stilwell said the race day volunteers played a critical role for all of the runners that day. Delgado, volunteered at an aid station from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Mile Marker 68.7, and said the runners seemed so thankful for their support.  

"I was overwhelmed by all the 'thanks' that I received by the runners as they passed," said Delgado. "They were very happy to have me there giving them some ice, water and snacks, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, coke, ginger ale, energy drinks and much more."

Serrott said she was thrilled to be a part of taking photographs and cheering on the team, but she most enjoyed spending time with each runner and helping them through this run by keeping them fed and hydrated.

"I got to know each person on the team and soon learned everyone's individual needs and wants throughout the race," said Serrott. "I was so happy to be able to do my part to cheer on and physically take care of them. They were probably tired of me yelling out, 'who needs food, who needs hydration,' every half hour or so, but that was my task at hand and I think it became a good laugh."

During the race, one relay team member would run a leg ranging from three to eight miles, depending on runner's preference and course requirements, but Stilwell said, "we set a team minimum of three miles per leg and each runner on the team ran longer in total distance than a half-marathon that day."

The only two race rules on running segments is that each leg was at least two miles and there were no hand offs on bridges. Therefore, one runner had to run the full length of the Seven-Mile Bridge, the longest bridge in the Overseas Highway, connecting Marathon City, Fla. to Little Duck Key, Fla.

Not only would the Seven-Mile Bridge be one of the longest legs of the race, it would also hit the hottest part of the day, and therefore be the most grueling. Having served in Baghdad, Fryer stepped up to the Seven-Mile Bridge challenge full of anticipation. He said he wasn't a distance runner and only began preparing for this run a month ahead of the race. But as Fryer began to run the steep climb of the bridge, he said he began to feel the strain in his body and the doubt in his ability to keep going.

"As I peaked the bridge, I thought about how I use to run about three miles every other day around Baghdad Airport and realized I was halfway through my run," said Fryer. "Mentally I started to doubt myself, but as I felt the ease of running downhill, I started to think of my fellow vets who have lost some sort of mobility function that the rest of us take for granted. I used this as my motivator and kept striving for the end to hand the baton off to one of my teammates."

After the team gave it their all to the finish, the next morning, they went to the race site to support Pyle as he headed towards the finish line. The team met with Pyle at Mile Marker 1 to cheer him on his last stretch after months of being on the road.

"It was an honor to be there and see him at that last mile," said Stilwell. "Seeing that flag waving just as strong and high as it was when he started running with it more than 3,000 miles ago was beautiful. I could not be more proud that the Patriot Run Across America welcomed NATCA to join this adventure and support this cause."

Visit the NATCA Running page for more photos.

NATCA Running team after the finish. From left to right: Bryan Collier, Kevin Quinlan, Ruth Stilwell, Steven Russell (back), Brian Fryer, Jose Sifuentes and Ken Norberg

From left to right: NATCA President Paul Rinaldi, John Pyle and Brian Fryer

Kevin Quinlan and Brian Fryer giving each other a high-five.

Ken Norberg forgot to pass the band to Ruth Stilwell at the exchange. After just finishing his first leg, he had to catch up with her to slap the bracelet on her wrist.

Ruth Stilwell and John Pyle before the race.