WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – My usual hiking buddy for the Bataan Memorial Death March opted out this year to attend a black tie dinner in Washington (bad choice) and I knew I needed to find someone to hike with, as I did not want to do the demanding high desert course here alone.
At about mile marker two, I spotted a possible buddy who seemed as seasoned -- a better word than old -- as myself, Kirk Bauer. Like me, Kirk is a Vietnam veteran. Kirk, who lost one leg just three months into his Vietnam tour and now serves as the executive director of Rockville, Md.-based Disabled Sports USA, had brought out 30 Wounded Warriors to join him in the Memorial March.
As I talked with him, I quickly realized that Kirk with one good leg was in far better shape than me. Last June, he and four wounded Afghanistan veterans had attempted to climb Mount Denali in Alaska, each carrying a 50 pound pack and pulling a sled packed with another 50 pounds of supplies. Severe weather forced them to turn back at 14,200 feet -- a trek I could not imagine with two legs.
Kirk also told me about his successful climb of 19,336-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in August 2010. He completed this climb with former Army Sgt. Dan Nevins, who lost both legs in Iraq, and Neil Duncan, another Army sergeant who lost both legs in Afghanistan. The trio made it to the top with only one good leg among them, Kirk jokingly told me.
We trudged on and at about mile marker seven another marcher, Roger Long of Colorado Springs, Colo., approached. When hearing Kirk’s name, he said the Wounded Warrior Kilimanjaro climb had inspired him to do his first Bataan Memorial Death March last year – after close to a decade of idleness due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 36.
As Roger relates in his blog, if three wounded veterans could climb Kilimanjaro, then he could at least complete the 26.2 mile Bataan Memorial Death March. And he has, for the past two years. Now the summit of Kilimanjaro is on his to do list.
The chance encounter with Kirk and Roger here symbolizes one of my favorite sayings: “Coincidence is the word God chooses to use when she wants to remain anonymous.”
Full disclosure: Kirk and Roger both completed the 26.2 mile course while I opted for the wimpier 15 mile route. I plan to sign both on as personal trainers.