Veterans often voice frustration about the challenges they face during their transition back into civilian life. For Joe Quinn, the process just got a little easier: New York Road Runners is now partnering with his organization, Team Red, White & Blue, as part of a new program that helps veterans get active through weekly races and other activities.
Beginning on Veterans Day, November 11, NYRR will give veterans new membership options that include lower race fees, the chance to create a club team, and the opportunity to mentor youths as the veterans reconnect in a way that lends structure and purpose to what can sometimes be a confusing re-entry into a life they left for military service.
Quinn, whose brother was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, entered West Point during peacetime, but left during wartime, headed for Iraq. After three tours of duty, he retired from the Army in the spring of 2008.
“It was humbling coming back from a war zone,” Quinn said in an interview Thursday. “[It] was the typical story of transitioning back. I came back to a medal ceremony in Brooklyn and [went] straight to the VFW for drinks afterward. I went to graduate school in Boston, where I was away from friends and family. I gained 30 pounds, disconnected from a lot of people, and was struggling that first year out of the military.”
In graduate school, he met Mike Erwin, also a veteran, and the two realized the need to organize something for transitioning military personnel. “I wanted to stop focusing on the enemy and start focusing on helping veterans transition into our communities,” he said.
Five years later, there are 75 chapters of Team Red, White & Blue around the country, whose main goals are providing not only a physical challenge, but also a social connection. “There’s a bit of magic in it: That’s what this brings for the runners, is consistency,” Quinn said.
Twenty veterans kicked off the new partnership by running in Saturday’s NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K, carrying the U.S. flag. Quinn and his wife were there cheering their team on as they got ready to run the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday.
Sunday’s marathon means a lot to the Quinn family. His parents’ home was lost during Superstorm Sandy last year and he and his wife are running to honor them, his brother, the brother she lost to suicide as an ROTC cadet, her brother who was killed by an IED, and to give back to people who are struggling. He said that he and his wife have been training and that he’s ready, but that because she ran cross country when she was younger, she’s the faster of the two and “she’s probably going to kick my butt.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg