WEST POINT, N.Y. — Twenty-four hours after accepting the Army-Navy game ball during the spirit rally at West Point, N.Y., the U.S. Military Academy’s marathon team ended its long-distance relay run as they entered Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
But it was quiet inside the empty stadium … just the team and a group of veterans and military supporters who escorted them on the final stretch of road from King of Prussia, Pa., into Philadelphia.
After 150-miles of pounding rubber soles onto cold concrete, the road-weary travelers exchanged handshakes, hugs, words of appreciation and called it a night. The team would make the moment more official Dec. 8, when they returned to the stadium again with the world watching the ceremonial handoff of the game ball.
In 1984, volunteers from the Corps of Cadets made the first delivery of the Army game ball. That tradition faded away until the marathon team revived it in 1994 and they’ve been running the ball ever since. The academy’s best long-distance runners get to represent the Army in the annual Ball Run.
Every team member who ran the Richmond Marathon in November earned a spot to compete in the Boston Marathon next April. For West Point marathoners, that’s like playing in the Army-Navy Game itself or competing in the Olympics. It’s the pinnacle of their collegiate athletic careers.
They’ve certainly got the legs and stamina to run the ball cross-country, but better yet, they’ve got the right spirit. It doesn’t diminish in below-freezing weather. When Class of 2015 Cadet Leora Reyhan jumped back into the van after completing several miles, her damp hair was frozen stiff.
“It’s cold, but you get used to it,” she said, straightforwardly.
That spirit goes especially for the “graveyard shift.” Of the three vans of runners, the second one, led by Maj. Sharon Kircher, is notorious for having to endure running in the darkest of night, in the coldest of temperatures and with the least amount of sleep.
“There’s no one else out there, so it’s like we own the place,” said Cadet Tiffany Matthews, Class of 2016.
Remarkably, Braun and Matthews emerged quickly from rest and returned to the road for their second shift as if they were waking from a good night’s sleep for a morning run. They returned invigorated and animated after clearing a four-mile stretch.
“It was warmer out this time, which is good,” Matthews said. “More hills, but not bad.”
She’s already looking forward to three more years of running the game ball.
“I cannot wait to do this again--three more times,” Matthews said. Her running partner, however, had done her share of five Army Ball Runs, having had an extended stay at the academy for double shoulder surgery.
“The fifth and final time … it’s awesome as always,” Braun said.
Matthews is already looking forward to three more years of running the game ball.
“I cannot wait to do this again--three more times.”
This is a blast, so much fun,” Matthews said.
“It kind of puts things in perspective. We’re not just running the ball for the Army team. It’s for the whole Army community, the United States and all Americans,” said Cadet Benjamin Huff, Class of 2014.