Soldier's message finds an audience
David Bruce Hardt had never run a marathon like this before. He usually hates the day of a race, because he's too focused or too sore, and...
Seattle Times staff columnist
David Bruce Hardt had never run a marathon like this before. He usually hates the day of a race, because he's too focused or too sore, and his competitiveness overwhelms his joy.
On Sunday, however, everything felt different for the Iraq War veteran. Eighteen miles into the Seattle Marathon, his tribute to 48 of his fallen comrades, Hardt recognized just how widespread his message of remembrance had become.
The crowd began cheering him loudly. People extended their hands to offer thanks. Others wanted hugs, and Hardt was happy to break his stride to give them. A little girl even kissed his cheek, just as an Iraqi girl had done several months ago in an alley in Baghdad.
As a soldier, Hardt has become adept at anticipation, so he felt this atmosphere before he ran into it.
"It was pretty electric, pretty intense," said Spc. Hardt, a Fort Lewis soldier who has done two tours in Iraq serving with the Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry C Company, 2nd Platoon Reapers. "I knew I was going into it. I could sense it. It was inspirational. It was emotional.
"I can't even properly express what it meant, and I'm a talkative guy."
So many cameras flashed Hardt must've thought he was escorting Jessica Alba on the red carpet. He was a hero. He also represented heroes.
Now the average citizen understands this war better. Real people, not faceless troops, are dying, many more than the 48 names written on the shirt Hardt wore Sunday.
All political views must intersect at that one point — death. Hardt can't stand the death.
"We're human," he said. "We're not just machines doing a job."
While training in Iraq, the soldier learned to become his environment. Hardt could only experience freedom, every runner's craving, by losing himself in the gunfire and explosions, pretending he wasn't a moving target.
Back then, he didn't think about Sunday, the big day that would give everything meaning. He didn't think about anything, just running.
Survival is a simple goal.
Recognition can be much more complicated. But now he has it.
"I'm not looking at me," Hardt said. "I'm looking at what's in the news. We're talking about what the war has done, the lives it's taken, the soldiers who are injured and paralyzed.
"The message, it's really taken off. I walk around, and people are asking me questions, shaking my hand. I'm so glad we finally had a chance to get the names out there of lost soldiers. It was beautiful, absolutely unbelievable."
Leaders of Hardt's unit congratulated him afterward as only the military can.
"They said, 'Good job, go home, relax. Take it easy for a day, and come back to work,' " Hardt said, laughing.
Hardt's recovery involves some pool training and light weightlifting. His body is tired, racked, but he's feeling better than he thought he would.
This was his first marathon in three years. Hardt, 31, had run in marathons and half-marathons throughout his late teens and early 20s, but he lost his competitive edge. Then he went to war.
He dropped more than 40 pounds running in the 125-degree heat of Iraq. This was his release, despite the dangers of weather and warfare. And four months ago, he put purpose behind his training.
Hardt chose to run the Seattle Marathon to create more compassion for soldiers. He wanted to succeed so much that he worried about every little thing that could go wrong in the race, including the recurring tendinitis in his right knee.
He wound up having few problems in this marathon, just a minor breathing issue because of the cold weather. He barely noticed his knee pain.
"It was very weird," said Hardt, who finished in just under 4 ½ hours, hugs and kisses included. "I don't feel bad at all."
This marathon was, Hardt said, "the greatest run I've ever had." He had fun running one for the first time. He figures this was a nice way to end his obsession with marathons.
"I think that was my last one," said Hardt, who now plans to focus on half-marathons. "I think I've reached the pinnacle."
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