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Smiling after running 26.2 miles and a year of training together while their husbands were deployed, 1st ID wives, from left, Devon Williams, Mindy Campbell, Lori Mitchell, Eliane Wentz, Sarita Garrison, Melissa Fitzgerald and Tracy Fass celebrate their completion of the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida.

Smiling after running 26.2 miles and a year of training together while their husbands were deployed, 1st ID wives, from left, Devon Williams, Mindy Campbell, Lori Mitchell, Eliane Wentz, Sarita Garrison, Melissa Fitzgerald and Tracy Fass celebrate their completion of the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida. (Photo courtesy of Lori Mitchell)

When a group of seven wives of 1st Infantry Division soldiers started looking for a project to occupy themselves with while their spouses were deployed to Iraq last year, they wanted to pick something on par with what their husbands might go through.

It had to be something mentally tough, physically demanding and prolonged — something they weren’t sure they could really do, said Eliane Wentz, wife of the commander of the 1st ID’s Division Support Command, Col. Paul Wentz.

Batting ideas around with a couple of friends last February, Wentz said they hit on it: they would run a marathon.

Ever the fair-weather jogger’s supreme achievement, the 26.2-mile run was a fittingly-distant goal for seven women who rarely put sneaker to pavement with physical stress in mind, Wentz said.

“None of us run,” she said. “We are not runners.”

But word spread around the Kitzingen, Germany, community that women would perform the feat, and by last spring a core group coalesced that included Wentz, Devon Williams, Mindy Campbell, Tracy Fass, Melissa Fitzgerald, Sarita Garrison and Vilseck, Germany, resident Lori Mitchell.

The idea immediately gave the wives a new way to maintain some solidarity with their husbands, Wentz said.

“It was nice to think that they were going [to Iraq] knowing that we were going to be doing something with them in mind,” she said.

Lt. Col. Dan Mitchell — Lori’s husband — said he had suggested that his wife get involved in something while he was gone.

“That was the perfect example of how she didn’t just survive, she thrived,” Mitchell said.

While stationed in Iraq, he watched the runners’ progress via a marathon Web site.

“As the marathon took place and afterward, I was extremely proud,” Mitchell said.

But the 45-year-old woman who “had never run a day in her life,” according to Lori Mitchell, soon found out what she had gotten herself into.

“It was horrendous,” Wentz said. “I couldn’t even run a mile.”

But the group attacked their training regimen with Forrest Gump-ish doggedness, working their way up to half-marathon distance by September. In January, just before their husbands were about to return, the seven flew to Florida to run in the Walt Disney World Marathon. All seven crossed the finish line in the allotted time, Wentz said.

With the 1st ID back and attending a series of post-deployment celebrations, the runners now are looking back on their year in training. They realized that their workouts became more than a distraction from having their husbands gone — it helped strengthen their relationships.

“It was a great thing for our marriages,” Lori Mitchell said.

Wentz agreed. “Any time I ran and I got very, very tired, I thought about my spouse,” she said. “Mentally, it was very healthy for me because it made me feel connected to my husband.”


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