Dan Neilsen knows he doesn't look like a runner. At 40-something, he's a lawyer by profession and with his U.S. Marines days behind him, he's mainly stuck to weight-lifting as a fitness regiment.
That changed last year when Neilsen was joined by 12 of his fellow Marines who had all served on Presidential Guard Duty in the mid-90s together to honor the memory of one of their own.
Neilsen, of Maple Valley, ran 85 miles for his friend, Capt. Tyler B. Swisher who was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in 2005.
Honoring Captain Swisher
According to the Department of Defense press release announcing his death, Swisher and a fellow Marine were in a vehicle traveling beside a canal in Al Amariyah, Iraq when they were attacked. The force threw them both from the vehicle into the water. Swisher had been assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
About a decade before that, however, Swisher was one of the Marines Neilsen had served with while stationed at Marine Security Company Camp David. Though the individuals have since moved on, social media made it possible for the group to stay in contact, and according to Neilsen they decided they wanted to come together to honor Swisher's sacrifice as well as to help raise money to support the three children he left behind. From there, Always Brothers was born.
Swisher was "an intense, physical guy" who swore off parties and socializing for working out and staying healthy, said Neilsen. The ambitious goal of running 100 miles then, seemed appropriate. "It was the best way to honor him in a way that was worthy of him," he said. "None of us really did anything like this."
Compounding the odds against them was the fact they decided to do the run in muggy August weather from Thurmont, Md., to Swisher's grave site in Arlington National Cemetery. In the end, one person completed the 100 miles, four completed admirable distances (including Neilsen) and the remaining eight runners completed various legs of the full stretch.
The group also raised $17,000 for Swisher's family -- $5,000 went to each of his children and $2,000 with to another charity that provided gift cards for wounded veterans, Neilsen said.
While taxing to say the least -- it took the group 27.5 hours to complete the run -- the adrenalin kicked in and they are back for more.
This Memorial Day weekend, the running group has doubled to 26 people who have signed on to run another 100 miles -- this time in Ohio, the home state of Lima Company, part of 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marine Regiment. It's also Swisher's home state.
The Lima Company, according to Neilsen, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the hardest hit units to serve in Iraq; 22 Marines and one Navy Corpman were killed in 2005.
Always Brothers' run goal is to complete the 100 miles in 24 hours, and this time Neilsen wants to finish all 100 miles. This means that he's has been hitting the pavement, gravel roads and treadmill hard. When the weather cooperates, he favors running along the Cedar River as well as in and around Lake Wilderness. He tries to stay off main roads but may venture onto State Route 169 toward Black Diamond for something different.
With a full-time job, however, Neilsen has been logging the hours at Thrive Community Fitness in Maple Valley with his trainer who has developed a modified routine for him as it is very difficult to simulate a 100-mile run. "The biggest constraint is time. I don't have the time I really need to get that done."
But that hasn't stop him from trying. Neilsen endured the 'dreadmill' back on January 14 when he ran 50 miles on 11 treadmills at the gym. It took 11 hours and nine minutes, he said.
That was brutal, he said, but he's actually come to enjoy running. The challenge now is to bring the Always Brothers story to light and to generate as much interest in the fundraising effort as possible.
So far, big names like Kroger, Red Bull and even Ted Nugent and family have signed on for financial support. (See list of sponsors) Arctic Ease, the company that makes cold packs, has agreed to donate supplies. But it's not just about getting the big sponsors. "We're asking people to donate $1 for each of the 23 killed in Lima Company, so we've got donations of $23 all the way to $500 and more," Neilsen said.
Combined, those killed in Lima Company left behind at least 15 children, Neilsen said. Organizers are still working to reach family members of the deceased in order to have final numbers before the run in May, he said. The group's goal is to set up 529 plans for the children.
The work has been fulfilling for Neilsen who said he was glad for the opportunity to come together and work on a common goal even 20 years after their first assignments on Presidential Guard Duty. The bond that Marines share is everlasting and that has helped shape the name of the Always Brothers organization. "It's Always Brothers, Always Faithful, Semper Fidelis."
To learn more about Lima Company, Always Brothers or how to donate to the effort, visit www.alwaysbrothers.org.
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