COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Nicholas Craven started his July Fourth honoring his former superior officer by running, lifting weights, doing sits-ups and pull-ups, crawling on all fours and carrying another person up the State House steps.
He and 243 other fans of cross-fit exercise participated in the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Warrior Challenge that benefitted the college fund for the two children of the late Deputy Ryan Rawl. Rawl, 30, was one of three members of the S.C. National Guard’s 133rd Military Police Company killed a year ago by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
The first lieutenant was Craven’s platoon leader during the deployment.
“The Fourth of July is a time to spend with family,” Craven said. “He was a mentor and a father figure. I feel like I’m spending it with my family.”
Ryan Rawl’s parents, Stanley and Diane, attended the event in downtown Columbia on Thursday and thanked competitors for the tribute to their son. During the challenge, one woman fresh from a set of wind sprints ran up to Stanley Rawl, a Lexington County farmer, and thanked him for his son’s sacrifice.
“This means to me that he is not forgotten,” Stanley Rawl said of the first of two fundraisers this year for his grandchildren, Caleb, 3, Callie, 5. “It feels like he’s still on the job, and that he’s still contributing.”
Rawl’s older brother, Stan, took part in the challenge, hosted by Warrior Fitness CrossFit Vista, where participants ran around the State House grounds to perform various exercises. Stan Rawl, 34, dealt with his only sibling’s death by starting to run again three days after the bombing.
Ryan Rawl had ribbed his brother about needing to exercise during a visit home two months before his death. The pair had agreed to start working out together when the deployment ended.
“After he died, I was searching for a source of pride,” Stan Rawl said. “Most of the time as I was in pain getting back into shape, I thought he would be laughing at me. It was his way of getting back at me.”
Stan Rawl’s partner in the Warrior Challenge was S.C. National Guard Spc. A.J. Durham, one of five members of the 133rd seriously injured in the suicide blast.
Shrapnel broke his arm and leg and tore a chunk of his thigh. After more than 10 surgeries including grafting skin from one thigh to the other, Durham said doctors told him that he would not walk for eight months. The Clemson native was running in half that time.
He ran in a four-hour event where racers carried a rucksack with 30 pounds of weights. The challenge was the second organized athletic event of his recovery that started at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and has moved to Fort Jackson in Columbia.
Durham, 27, hopes to return to full duty this fall and train to become an Army Ranger. He was married last week on Stanley and Diane Rawl’s farm. Some of his biggest pain Thursday came from sunburn suffered during his Myrtle Beach honeymoon that he interrupted so he could take part in the challenge.
He powered his way through Thursday’s soupy mid-80s degree heat in the state capital, carrying a 20-pound ball over his head while running up and down one set of State House steps and carrying his partner, Stan Rawl, on the other set.
Durham wore a black metal memorial bracelet in Ryan Rawl’s honor that included the inscription, “Don’t pray for me, pray for my men,” on a day that he described as emotional.
“Today, I have been thinking about all the men and women who have been through much worse than me, and how lucky I am to be here to be able to do this,” he said. “You have to keep pushing yourself. You don’t have time to sulk. You have got to keep doing your best to honor what they did.”