Extreme Effort, Extreme Reward
Don Wade logs 1,501 miles in 28 days in support of veterans.
By Jeremiah McCarthy
Every year during the month of February, thousands of participants from around the world join together for Run Ranger Run (RRR), a fundraiser for veteran organization GallantFew. RRR involves teams of up to 10 individuals who pledge to run, walk, bike, swim, or row a combined 565 miles. The personal motivation and physical drive behind each team member is unique – and for 62-year-old Don Wade, who boldly claims that Run Ranger Run was the best month of his life, he does it For All Who Served (FAWS).
Wade participated in his first Run Ranger Run in 2018. To assist him in his efforts, he recruited a nine-member team comprised of friends and family members dubbed Team FAWS, meaning “For All Who Served,” leaving one slot open in memory of his son who died in a tragic accident in 2011.
Once February rolled around, he began rowing.
And biking some more — for a total of 1,501 miles in 28 days!
After rowing and biking what would equate to almost the entire length of the United States’ East coast – Wade subsequently became the top individual mileage winner and one of the top individual fundraisers, earning over $3,500 for GallantFew.
“Every day of that 28 days was focused on doing my very best for you guys and girls,” Wade said, “and for all the other veterans.”
Throughout February, during those countless hours on the bike or rowing machine, Wade was able to keep himself going by thinking about his son, as well as the veterans who would benefit from the miles and money he was raising.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes,” Wade said. “My effort is minimal compared to what [veterans] have endured, but what kept me going is the strength of those other people.”
As Wade pointed out, if you say 1,501 miles really fast, “it don’t mean anything to anybody.” However, for the endurance athletes, the runners, the bikers, “they know the effort that was put forth and they can appreciate that,” he added. “I seriously was very tired.”
Not surprisingly, Wade has always been athletic. With football being his first love, he was also into roller skating and hunting. After passing on a football scholarship to Oklahoma State, Wade began working for the family business, Wade’s Transmissions, and ultimately took over the operation in 1987 when his adopted father (a World War II U.S. Army Ranger veteran) died. He still managed to find time for physical fitness and staying involved with philanthropic endeavors — winning the Texas State Championship and earning the MVP award as quarterback for his flag football team, serving as a strength and conditioning coach for youth athletes, and participating in flag-football fundraising events benefiting cancer research.
After his knee surgery at the age of 52, he began rowing as a means of maintaining his fitness level. Never wanting to be second best, he began issuing himself fitness challenges. And again, as a way of assigning meaning to the things we do, he researched the total number of U.S. combat military casualties (around 655,302 in 2014) and decided it was only appropriate that he set a personal goal of rowing 655,302 meters. So, he began rowing, and it only took him 42 days; he started the challenge on October 1 and finished on Veteran’s Day (his late-father’s birthday/November 11). That comes out to a little over nine miles a day, and he’s repeated his personal challenge every year since then, and always with the most current numbers.
Wade logs all his miles on a Concept2 rowing machine, and during his month of Run Ranger Run, he surpassed 13 million meters. Meanwhile, earth’s diameter stands at a paltry 12.74 million meters.
Referring to his first Run Ranger Run experience as the best 28 days of his life, Wade possesses a seemingly endless supply of energy and optimism.
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it do the best of my ability,” Wade said. “It’s always me against me. Not me looking at somebody else and trying to be somebody else —because that’s all I am, is me. I see people that are so negative and angry and all this stuff that is not healthy. I try to be the best leader that I can be, and being the best leader is being a great servant and not being above anybody just because you are a leader or placed in a management role.”
Numbers mean a lot to Wade; he can tell you exactly how old he is down to the day on any given day. At the time of this writing, he was 62 years, 344 days old. How many days until he retires? 678 days, if you were wondering. The significance of the 565 miles for Run Ranger Run, and having that number as a goal to reach, resonated with him.
After knocking out 565 miles for himself, he knocked out another 565 miles in memory of his son, and then he tacked on another 74 miles in memory of a close friend’s son who died in the line of duty while working for the Houston Sheriff’s Department (his friend wore the number 74 on his football jersey). Wade didn’t stop until he reached 1,501 miles (appropriately, the race number his wife wore at a half-marathon the previous year was 15501 – coincidence?)
“I can honestly say,” said Wade, “that as long as my heart beats, every February I will be involved [in Run Ranger Run] and I will do my very best.”
ABOUT RRR AND THE GALLANTFEW
GallantFew is a veteran assistance nonprofit organization that focuses on helping active duty military personnel transition to civilian life. Founded by former U.S. Army Ranger officer Karl Monger in 2010 with an initial focus on transitioning Rangers, the organization has grown to include specific focus groups, as well as a general category for transitioning veterans who operated outside of those specialized communities. Transitioning veterans (Future Guides) are partnered with a local-to-them veteran (Guide) who has already successfully transitioned out of service and comes from a similar military background. The Guide assists the Future Guide with everything from finding housing and employment to participating in community events that can reconnect them to civilian life.
The fundraiser Run Ranger Run developed out of the actions of 3rd Ranger Battalion veteran U.S. Army Cpl. Cory Smith. With multiple deployments and firsthand experience of friends being killed or wounded in action, Smith wanted to draw attention to the difficulties soldiers face when they return from combat. To do this, he decided to run, walk and bike 565 miles from Fort Benning, Georgia, to his home in Indianapolis during the 28 days in February 2012. GallantFew supported Smith during his mission, and they worked together to develop the annual Run Ranger Run fundraiser. To date, Run Ranger Run has raised over a million dollars.