ST. FRANCISVILLE — While many of the hundreds of runners at Saturday’s Warrior Dash in St. Francisville were there mostly just for the challenge of a 5K race riddled with obstacles, others took it as an opportunity to pay homage to the sacrifices made by everyday warriors.
The obstacle race is held in cities around the country. The local iteration wound through the woods around the West Feliciana Sports Park, including obstacles like “Goliath,” a tall structure participants climbed to reach a balance beam that led to a 30-foot slide, and a ropes course called “High Tension.”
“It’s more like a 5K plus,” said Scott Madison, part of a team supporting Special Ops Survivors, a national organization that provides financial and emotional help to spouses and family members of fallen soldiers.
Madison and his teammates wore full military combat gear as they jumped in a pond, slogged through mud and crawled over obstacles. Attached to the sleeve of each of the team’s runners was a photo of one of four Louisiana National Guard members killed in March in a helicopter crash while training in Florida: pilots George Griffin and George Strother, and crew members Lance Bergeron and Thomas Florich.
“We’re not pretending to be something we’re not, but we run as a small special operation unit that runs in about a 12-man group,” said Devin Brooks, a Special Ops Survivors board member. “This is how they train; this is how we represent them. That’s why we wear what we wear, to emulate that and show respect for that.”
The team of Baton Rouge residents has participated in this race for four years and travels the country to take part in similar events — nine so far this year. They don’t run for time but instead to bring attention to how soldiers must stick together and make sure everyone crosses the finish line safely.
They even carry backpacks filled with medical supplies. In past years, Madison said, the team has carried injured racers off the course on stretchers.
On Saturday, the Special Ops Survivors group was joined by 20 National Guardsmen from the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion based in Hammond.
The team’s goal is to highlight not only the struggles of military life but also those of soldiers’ families.
“The spouse has the hardest job,” said Brooks, a financial adviser who served in the Navy from 1985 to 2008.
The team’s members come from diverse backgrounds. Beau Clark is the coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish, and Madison works in information technology. Wearing the combat gear puts things in perspective.
“The guys that we run for, they never took the easy way out,” Madison said.
Another team ran the race to honor Bryan Slate, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after completing the Warrior Dash four years ago. Team Slate is made up of Slate’s friends from the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
“He is a warrior,” said Jennifer Berniard, who’s been to the race for three years.
Joey Cataldie ran the Warrior Dash with Slate four years ago and has come back every year since. Though the race is not as intimidating as it looks, it is not easy, the Team Slate members said — but they realize they’re lucky to be able to participate.
“This is all about moral support,” said Case Watkins. “It’s a symbol of (Slate’s) struggle against the disease, so we all did it.”