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CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Brig. Gen. William Johnson has been hiding a secret.

Johnson and only one other person in the country know what the T-shirts for the upcoming Peachtree Road Race look like — a secret that has become a covert operation of sorts during the event’s 35-year-history. Racers don’t see, or receive, a shirt until they cross the finish line of the popular road race founded in Atlanta.

This weekend, anyone who finishes the 10-kilometer race at one of several bases in the Mideast will take home a shirt of their very own.

Johnson, a 25-year-veteran of the race, helped its sponsor, the Atlanta Track Club, open satellite locations so servicemembers in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan could run the 10K course.

“I think it’s really fitting to be able to run this on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of our independence,” Johnson said. “All the soldiers who will be running are here helping these two countries establish their freedom.”

The Peachtree Road Race is famous for being the world’s largest 10K race, with 55,000 participants annually, culled from around the globe.

Last year Johnson, an Atlanta native, found himself in Iraq on July 4 and asked race officials if he could design his own course, report his time, and still be counted among the official field of runners.

The track club not only said yes, they sent him a T-shirt and donated materials and T-shirts for this year’s runners.

“These are people who adore the race when they’re home, and being so far away, in some amount of danger, the race is a nice touch of home for them on the national birthday,” said Julia Emmons, race director.

Nearly 2,000 servicemembers are expected to participate in the races at various camps in the Mideast. The Camp Arifjan race begins at 5 a.m. Monday at the Zone 1 gym. Runners can register up until the beginning of the race.

In Kuwait, officials have even pinpointed a front-runner who is expected to be first across the finish.

Staff Sgt. Robert Schnell is a member of the National Guard’s marathon team and has won every 5-kilometer race he’s run at Camp Arifjan since arriving last October.

At Monday’s race, he plans to more than earn his T-shirt.

“If nobody out of the ordinary shows up, I should win it,” Schnell said. “I haven’t lost a race yet [in Kuwait].”

Allison Perkins is a freelance writer living in Kuwait.


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