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Mother, daughter duo race together - 8,000 miles apart

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Carolyn Viss
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Most people would never want to run a full marathon, but even fewer would think of running one in the desert with a dust storm looming.

"Looks like I might have to run the whole 26 miles on a treadmill," 1st Lt. Jessica Lopez joked, two days before the Los Angeles Marathon. "Last time I ran in a dust storm, it was miserable."

She had been keeping an eye on the weather in Southwest Asia for weeks, anticipating March 2, when she planned to run the marathon with her mom, Dawn. The fact that they're more than 8,000 miles apart just wasn't an issue for the duo.

"We both wanted to run the marathon and we eventually came to the conclusion that we could make it happen in our own special way," the Orange County, Calif., native said.

They decided that at 6 p.m. in Southwest Asia, at the roughly same time Dawn, 52, would be running in Los Angeles, Jessica would begin the grueling race here.

Lieutenant Lopez, a C-17A pilot stationed at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., is deployed here for four months. She's been running with her mother since she was a little girl.

"My mom started to run long distance races in the mid-'80s when I was growing up," the 25-year-old said. "When I was little, I liked running in small road races because I enjoyed being able to compete in races like my mom [because] she got to run in races and get T-shirts and medals."

She competed in track all four years of high school as a discus and shot-put thrower, but went away from running until her junior year of high school, when she joined the cross-country team.

"Mainly, I joined the team to get into better shape because I was interested in going to the Air Force Academy. I always wanted to run a marathon with my mom, but that goal got put on an indefinite hold when I got recruited to throw (discus) in college," she said. Her record throw was 151 feet.

After she graduated in 2004, the new lieutenant was looking for a way to get into better shape and found herself running again. At that point, Dawn was running around six or seven marathons a year and had qualified for the Boston Marathon.

"I found myself asking her questions about how to train for running long distances," Lieutenant Lopez said. "I think somewhere inside of me, that made me want to run the Boston Marathon. Even though I had gone to college, gotten married, joined the military, and moved clear across the country, running enabled me and my mom to remain close."

They began seriously racing together, Dawn running full marathons and Jes running halves. In 2007, she ran her first full marathon.

"It was an incredible bonding experience to share 26.2 miles together," Lieutenant Lopez said. "I'll never forget crossing the finish line hand in hand and the joy of accomplishment. I may not have run very fast, but I ran and finished."

She went on to finish the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:38, which qualified her for the Boston Marathon. Both ladies hope to it run together in April when Lieutenant Lopez returns from her deployment.

The petite brunette began training for the L.A. marathon as soon as she arrived in the desert in January. This is her third marathon; it's her mother's 45th.

Desert conditions hardly swayed the hard-charging Airman, who returned from a 30-hour mission this week and was placed flight standby immediately after she finished crew rest.

Lieutenant Lopez's Air Force family came through for her. Two other Globemaster III pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here decided to join her. Capt. Matthew Jarrett is on his fourth marathon, and 1st Lt. David Tomlinson, his second.

"We have run together at different times when our flying schedules have permitted," Lieutenant Lopez said. "We just had to train whenever we could."

The night of the race was calm and cool. About 30 other Airmen ran the first 5 kilometers with the marathoners, encouraging the trio as they ran by, and support trucks stopped along the road with water and energy drinks for the three pilots. Three and a half hours later, a crowd gathered at the finish line to cheer and congratulate the exhausted runners.

"I didn't finish in the time I expected to," Lieutenant Lopez said, after running it in 3:39, "but I'm just glad I made it. It was really good to know my mom was running at the same time. I knew I couldn't give up."