Members of the CSB/SJU community ran 26.2 miles in desert terrain to commemorate thousands of American and Philipino soldiers.
Last weekend, the Fighting Saints Battalion (FSB) participated in the 24th annual Bataan Memorial Death March. Held in the White Sands Missile Range of New Mexico, the marathon is in honor of the soldiers who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II.
“It’s an opportunity to show we haven’t forgotten the sacrifice veterans have made before us,” CSB senior Tiffany Wirtz said.
The first thing marathon participants do after they cross the finish line is shake hands with the Bataan survivors. This year, five veterans were waiting at the finish.
“I enjoy it for the fact that it’s a good achievement, and I really like to shake the hands of the survivors. There’s not many left,” SJU senior Jake Oestreich said.
FSB was represented by four teams: ROTC Heavy (participants wore their uniforms and carried 35 pound rucks), ROTC Light Co-ed and two Civilian Co-ed teams, as well as by individuals. Participation in the marathon was voluntary.
“Those who participate, their work ethic is amazing,” Personnel Officer Alberto DeJesus (DJ) said. “This group is very disciplined.”
In order to participate, students must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and maintain a high level of physical fitness.
“They have to be well-rounded,” DeJesus said.
Typically, the Fighting Saints do very well at the March despite competing against much larger schools. Though the schools are small, CSB/SJU and St. Cloud State University bring more competitive teams than others.
“We have such talent here, and we come from a very small school,” SJU senior Connor Gjevre said. “It’s fun beating bigger schools. We go against DI schools. It’s the challenge that drives us to do that.”
FSB’s two Civilian teams took first and second place. This was the first time in several years FSB participated in the ROTC Heavy category and the ROTC Light team received second place.
“It was very good, considering we hadn’t done it for a long time,” Oestreich said.
Though expected to win for the third year in a row, the ROTC Light team was disqualified. Unfortunately, one member started “cramping up,” and the team decided to stop rather than risk the consequences of a serious injury. All five team members run together and must finish within 20 seconds of each other. In the spirit of Bataan and the U.S. Military, no one is left behind.
“It was a hard decision, but it was more important to keep him healthy instead of wrecking his career,” Gjevre said.
Even after waiting to see their teammate given proper medical care, the four other Light runners finished the race only 10 minutes behind the winners.
“We’re in Minnesota, so how do you train for a desert in New Mexico? It’s really hard to train here for that. We don’t have the altitude or the heat. So you try to get your body used to, as much as you can, long distance running,” Gjevre said.
To train for the marathon, teams and individuals ran several times each week, slowly building up miles, and lifted weights. The ROTC Heavy team also carried their rucks as part of their training.
“I think we do well because we train for so hard and so long. We start training in November. We have very good dedication,” Oestreich said.
Training for the Bataan Memorial Death March was also a teambuilding experience.
“I wouldn’t want to do it on my own, but you really start to build a relationship with your team,” Wirtz, part of the first place Co-ed team, said.
The Bataan Memorial Death March is an opportunity to remember the veterans’ sacrifice, as well as promote team dynamics, leadership, and physical and mental determination.
“I’m very proud of them,” DeJesus said.