USO Okinawa hosts inaugural Okinawa trek – An 80 mile challenge
USO Okinawa hosts inaugural Okinawa trek – An 80 mile challenge
Camp Foster, OKINAWA, Japan. Challenge Accepted! 100 Okinawa Trekkers found motivation to complete the daunting task of completing an 80-mile trek from a desire to see the island, to honor fallen service members, to prepare for competitions, to be consistently active, and to meet new friends.
The island of Okinawa spans approximately 80 miles, north to south, and is full of cultural interest, natural beauty, and historical importance. The USO Okinawa Trek 2021 challenged service members and their families to walk, hike, or run across the length of the island while learning about this rich environment from May 24 to Aug 25, 2021! Race dates included both US Memorial Day and Okinawa Memorial Day, giving participants an opportunity to trek with purpose. Registration included a 2021 USO Okinawa Trek T-shirt, locally made, blown glass medal, and virtual access to a map with local sites. Winners receive inscribed blown glass bottles.
Virtual participants logged their miles as they “hiked” to each of the four main checkpoints while clicking to learn about points of interest marked along the actual route. For those craving BIG adventure and wanting to walk or hike the route in person, USO Okinawa provided a special category of awards for those participants.
The idea of such a trek all started when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. A small group of military moms wanted a way to safely exercise in the early mornings before their children started virtual school. After expanding their distances and setting fun goals, like finding beautifully decorated manhole covers, they were determined to cross both the width and length of Okinawa. So, Karina Beard and her friends, Mary Tracy, Amy Small, and Jen Hill, set a date to walk from Cape Hedo to Peace Memorial Park in four days.
“We started with the idea of getting a workout, taking a break, and trying to keep our sanity during the COVID lockdowns,” Karina Beard, Air Force veteran, Marine spouse of 18 years, and mother of four, said. “We eventually made plans for the long hikes across island. These were physically and mentally demanding hikes. But also, these hikes allowed us a beautiful experience full of hidden sights of this beautiful island, kind people who live here, and the chance to make some wonderful friendships along the way.”
The USO asked Beard, a USO volunteer, if she would like to head up a program to challenge others to share in her amazing experience. And the USO Okinawa Trek was born! She then went to work finding links that showcased the island, creating maps, and designing badges. She monitored the social media page – giving advice and encouragement along the way.
“I was so excited to see so many people sign up and be inspired in the same way we were,” Beard said.
Winners of the USO Okinawa Trek 2021
1. Jay Elliot - 25 June
2. Alonso Espinoza - 11 July (5 am)
3. Richard Holguin - 11 July (11 am)
1. Deborah Roub - 27 June
2. Kelly Mulder - 4 July
3. Cheryl Lynn - 7 July
1. Kyle Mac - 1 June
2. Tim Adkins - 1 June
3. Michele Flynn - 30 July
Over the Memorial Day weekend, veterans Kyle Mac and Tim Adkins, were the first to meet the challenge of walking from Cape Hedo to Peace Memorial Park. Adkins’ young son, Easton who is eight, was so inspired that he joined his dad on a portion of the trek.
“Even through the struggles of COVID, this event gave us an opportunity to challenge ourselves and each other,” Adkins said. “On 1 June - we finished the last 20 miles all the way to the Peace Memorial Park at about 1800 - and hiked all the way out to the eternal flame near the cliffs! We were bruised, blistered, sun burned, and very tired and sore -- but felt good finishing it -- especially on such an important weekend. Big thanks to our supporters, family, and friends who kept us motivated and helped us along the way!”
Kelly Mulder completed the trek with friends from the Stoller Warriors Running Club.
“I had so much fun doing the 80-mile USO Okinawa Trek,” Mulder Said. “I enjoyed covering the miles with my friends. I particularly love the glass blown medals and glass blown bottle award. Not only are they absolutely beautiful, but I love that they tie into the history of the American military forces here in Okinawa, Japan. Thank you USO Okinawa! You did an excellent job creating and executing this challenge!”
“What an amazing experience the USO provided the Okinawa community,” Alonso F. Espinoza
said. “Not only through an 80-mile trek covering some amazing sites on island but through the eyes of so many inspiring "Trekkers" that shared their journeys on the social media pages each day.”
Phil VanEtten, USO Okinawa Area Director, challenges his team of 22 staff members and nearly 300 volunteers to find new ways to strengthen service members and their families while they serve so far from home.
“The wonderful thing about a program like this is that it brings the community together in both historical and physical ways,” VanEtten said. “Participants get pumped up about completing the Okinawa Trek (i.e., the physical portion) but at the same time they learn about this beautiful land called Okinawa as well as its history.”
The USO staff across island began hosting virtual challenges in 2020 and the challenge Facebook group now has over 500 members and growing with each challenge.
“Thank you USO Foster and the other USOs on Okinawa for keeping us all from
going bonkers with these challenges,” Richard Holguin, a runner who averages 1200 miles a year and second place winner, said. “From burpees and squats to trekking across this tropical island, you continue to support and unite service-members and our families, helping us find our happy place and our happy pace.’’
Deborah Roub, a military spouse and mother of two, was the first-place winner of women’s group and she also participated in the following USO challenges: 100 Mile Challenge, 1000 Burpee Challenge, SquatOber 3100 Challenge, 25 Days of Fit-Mas Christmas Challenge, and the 2100 Seconds of Cardio Challenge in January.
“I just started participating in challenges about a year ago, the USO is what got me started while my husband was deployed for 7 ½ months,” Roub said. “The Okinawa Trek was a great experience, it pushed me and kept me motivated towards my goal of being more active. The links and pins taught me about many beautiful places that I would not have known about.”
Trekkers gathered on August 24 for a pasta dinner, hosted by USO Foster, to receive their awards, Okinawan blown glass medals, and Okinawa Trek T-shirts. They also had the opportunity meet one another and share their experiences.
“It was awesome to meet everyone. I am definitely inspired to get more involved in USO events and run even more,” John Tru Bishop, trekker who ran 44 miles on June 19 and completed 200 miles in June alone, said. “I hope all of you succeed in all that brings your life and joy.”
USO Okinawa Trek 2022 will be in the spring of next year.
The next USO Okinawa challenge will be “The 3 x 3 - Balance is the Key to Life Challenge.” The community will push themselves for six weeks to find balance in mind, body, and spirit. They will set their own goals and then be checking off three squares each week as they complete physical, nutritional, and spiritual goals. The challenge will be from September 1 – October 15, 2021. The group is welcome to share fitness tips, recipes, and inspirational messages. They will be posting completed score cards to be entered to win prizes.
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