The year was 2007 and the month was August. I remember the day so clearly, as it was a considerably cool morning for the usual hazy humid days of summer in Annapolis, MD. I was trying to get ten miles in that morning knowing how nice the weather felt and how difficult summer training was for the Marine Corps Marathon. I trained for this marathon four years prior, but I certainly didn’t train then like I was going to train now. This time was different. I had a reason, a cause, a calling.
This time I would train hard and I would finish because I was running for my life; the life I lost when my husband, Major Doug Zembiec, was killed. He had died only three short months before this running day and my marathon training was helping me cope with my grief in so many ways.
As I ran along the B&A Trail, I took notice of the people laughing and happily conversing with their training partners and wondered, “do they see my sadness?” I especially took notice of those wearing shirts who were training for marathons helping to raise money for different charities. I looked ahead and noticed a man whose shirt had “Travis Manion Foundation” written on the back. He was a few meters in front of me and as I picked up my pace to catch him, I remembered how I knew the name “Travis Manion.”
Doug and Travis were friends. Doug and Travis were both Marines. Doug and Travis were both Navy wrestlers and Doug and Travis were both fallen heroes. I remembered a day when Doug came home all sweaty, exhausted, but invigorated. He was so excited to tell me how he was at the Academy wrestling with the mids and he had wrestled a “rock star” named Travis. Doug said, “Honey, I’m getting old. This dude was tough as nails.” However, my husband kept going to the academy to wrestle this young man because he couldn’t help himself. Doug was a mentor and a leader and he felt honored to work with the wrestlers at the Academy, especially those who were going into the Marine Corps, and Travis was one of the chosen (as Doug would say).
Doug left for his last deployment on March 30th of 2007. He called us on most days, but the call from him on April 30th was different. It was our 2nd wedding anniversary and right after he wished me happy anniversary his voice went dark. He told me, “the Marine Corps lost another great one yesterday.” When he told me it was Travis, my mind shifted back to the days of happiness that wrestling with Travis brought to my husband. Although I had never met Travis, I was devastated by the news feeling like I knew him through Doug.
Within two weeks of Travis’ death, the Marine Corps lost another great one. This time it was Doug.
I finally caught up with the man wearing the Travis Manion shirt. I reached out my hand and tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned his head towards me I said, “How do you know Travis?” The man answered, “Travis is my son.” I offered him my hand and said, “I’m Doug Zembiec’s widow.” Tom and I ran for a mile or so together and shared stories about these two men, our loved ones, who sacrificed everything for the love of their country. We parted ways on the trail that day, but I left knowing I wasn’t alone in my reasons for running the Marine Corps Marathon. I would have someone else running, maybe not alongside me, but someone who was on the same course who completely understood.