Union resident Karen Berra recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon in honor of Army Veteran Cpl. Russell Makowski, who was killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cpl. Makowski, of Union, was killed Sept. 14, 2006, at 23 years old. He is the son of Mark and Pam Makowski and older brother of Matt Makowski.
Berra doesn’t know the Makowski family personally, but her son played soccer with Russell's’ brother in school. She remembers when she found out that Russell Makowski had died in combat.
“Since that time, the family has routinely been in my thoughts, and yet I never felt comfortable reaching out to them,” Berra said.
This past spring, Berra entered her name in the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon lottery. The event was held Oct. 22 in Washington, D.C.
Berra was one of 30,000 athletes whose name was selected to run the marathon.
“I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to participate in this event,” she said. “I knew exactly who I wanted to run in honor of — Cpl. Russell Makowski.”
Berra reached out to Russell’s father to ask for his approval to run in honor of Russell Makowski.
“For me, every race has a purpose,” she said. “This particular day it was 26.2 purposeful miles to honor and remember Cpl. Makowski, a young man from our community who served and sacrificed.”
Mark Makowski said Berra running the marathon in honor of his son touched the entire family.
Serving in the military was something Russell Makowski wanted to do for most of his life, his father said.
“It makes you feel good to know there are people out there who really care about this country,” he said. “It gives you the hope you need every once in a while that this country is going to make it. It’s pretty special.”
Wear Blue: Run to Remember is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military.
The organization runs to honor all military members killed in combat.
At official “Wear Blue” events, such as the Marine Corps Marathon, American flags are lined along the course to honor the fallen, a tribute called the Wear Blue Mile, Berra explained.
“Each flag is hand-held making it a true living memorial,” she added.
In front of the flags are large posters with photographs of the fallen.
“The Wear Blue Mile humanizes the ultimate sacrifice made by the American heroes,” the Wear Blue website said.
Wear Blue athletes meet to honor the fallen on a weekly basis across the United States.
Berra recalled seeing Russell Makowski’s name displayed in September 2016, when Wear Blue: Run to Remember set up a display on Art Hill in Forest Park.
This display featured a collection of American flags traversing Art Hill from top to bottom, filling the entire hill with a flag for those killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom in chronological order. Each flag had a dog tag and photo ID of a fallen soldier.
“As I approached Art Hill from the Grand Basin, I could hear the hundreds of dog tags blowing in the wind, tapping, sounding like bells on the respective soldier’s flagpole,” Berra said. “All I could do was stop, listen and attempt to understand the sacrifice.
“I searched and found the soldier’s flag whose family had been on my mind so often — Cpl. Russell Makowski.”
The Marine Corps Marathon featured a “Blue Mile” — mile 12 of the run.
“It brought the same feeling as approaching the Grand Basin at Forest Park the previous fall,” Berra said. “My heart skipped a beat. It is reverent.”
Veterans and active duty athletes run while saluting the entire mile. Others run with their hands over their hearts, she explained.
“Some cry. Some stop to reflect. Some just pass through, but all honor, respect and remember,” she said. “I ran this mile with a warm, yet heavy, heart knowing Cpl. Makowski was being honored in this manner.”
During the event, Berra said that each time she felt she was suffering, particularly toward the end of the run, she thought of Cpl. Makowski.
Berra is a triathlete, a participant of swimming, cycling and running short and long course races. She completed her first Ironman in Louisville, Ky., in October 2016. The Ironman consists of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
The Marine Corps Marathon marked her fifth marathon.