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Olson: Walking to show support for Marines

Brett Gulke enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from Sycamore High School in 2009.
Brett Gulke enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from Sycamore High School in 2009.

Meaghan Gulke calls the Marines deployed overseas “my boys.”

One of those boys is her husband, Brett Gulke, a 2009 Sycamore High School graduate and a corporal with the Marine Corps 3/7 H&S Company. He left the family’s home near the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., a couple of weeks ago. He’s still in the United States, but soon he will be in Afghanistan for anywhere from two to 15 months.

Meaghan’s not sure when Brett will rejoin her and their two children, 2-year-old Torrie and 8-month-old Bryce. But she knows from experience that she’ll have little contact with her spouse while he’s overseas, and she has to stay strong and keep busy.

“When you don’t have something to do and all you do is sit around and think about that person, it can do really bad things,” Meaghan Gulke said.

One of the ways she’s trying to keep busy is by gathering enough miles to walk to Afghanistan and back. It was an idea devised by a Marine Family Readiness Officer on the base, she said.

“She’s like, ‘Let’s walk to Afghanistan,’ ” Meaghan Gulke said. “First team to walk to Afghanistan and back, we’ll see if we can’t get the boys a prize.”

The prize could be anything from a meal of “civilian food” such as hamburgers and hot dogs instead of the usual MREs, or a 72-hour leave where soldiers have access to the Internet and can contact their families, or maybe even a chance to come home a couple of weeks early, Meaghan Gulke said.

But the idea of walking to Afghanistan isn’t just to try to win something for her boys. It’s also to show them how much people back home support them.

Brett Gulke enlisted in the Marines not long after graduating from high school, and he loves his hometown.

“My husband is so proud to be from Sycamore,” she said. “The reason he joined the Marine Corps was because of Sycamore. He wanted them to be safe.”

Meaghan Gulke decided to reach out to some of the hometown people to get them involved in her effort. She’s spoken with Heather Eade, marketing and communications director at the Kishwaukee YMCA, and they’re working to organize a walking event there on Nov. 22, Brett Gaulke’s birthday. Eade says the YMCA would like to host an event.

She also reached out to Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy, who had an idea: Why not donate the miles logged by the more than 1,800 runners in the Sycamore Pumpkin Run 10K on Sunday? Mundy said he and Sycamore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Treml agreed it would be a good idea, and so they donated more than 11,300 miles to the cause from the more than 1,800 runners who participated.

“It’s a sign of support to not only Cpl. Gulke but his family and all the other deployed troops abroad,” Mundy said. “ … They’re Sycamore people, and we’re very happy to hear about this and be able to respond so favorably.”

It’s about 7,600 miles from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Twentynine Palms, and Gulke said the Pumpkin Run miles put their total at 15,672 miles, more than enough to go there and back. Now she wants to try to do it again.

As we spoke on Friday, Meaghan Gulke was busy packing for a trip to Sycamore. She, her two children and a service dog plan to return to the area Wednesday. Meaghan and the children will be staying with Brett’s parents, Scott and Karla Gulke. Karla Gulke is a kindergarten teacher at North Elementary School.

The Kishwaukee YMCA should be able to host an event on its running track Nov. 22, which is Brett’s 23rd birthday.

Meaghan Gulke envisions an event where people from the community can show up, wear red and walk to support Brett Gulke and other soldiers overseas.

“It’s a friendly thing, kids can do it, families can do it, anybody can do this,” Meaghan Gulke said. “It’s the easiest and most thoughtful thing you can give to a soldier.

“This will mean more than somebody sending money or food, this will mean so much more to know that someone loves them and supports them back here in the States.”

We’ll have more details on the effort as they are shored up.  Of course, we hope for Cpl. Gulke’s safe return.

Guess I contributed: I was one of those 1,800-plus runners in the Pumpkin Run last weekend.

I can hear you saying, “Good for you, Olson.”

Now, it was exciting to be a part of that big pack of people running down the streets and past the farm fields on a beautiful sunny morning. But dear reader, I’m not one of those people who tries to rub fitness in your face.

It’s hard to do too much of that when you’re in your 30s and you get beat out by a 78-year-old man.

That’s what happened to me. It was in the last mile. I’d had enough. I was just trying to finish the race. I’d made a point to let all of the real runners pass me by, sticking to a somewhat leisurely pace.

In the thick of that burning, stinging last mile, just as we were coming into the homestretch, a man pulled up on my right.

“I’m 78 years old,” he said.

As in, you’re clearly not, guy. And if I can finish this race, you’d better be able to.

That was enough for me. I finished the race. The race times show that the faster runner was Ludwig Mueller of Elgin, the only 78-year-old man in the race.

He beat me by 14 seconds.

I sure hope he signs on again next year. For one, it’s inspirational to see older people still active and challenging themselves and doing things that a lot of people wouldn’t attempt at any age.

Also: Next year I’m gunning for him.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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