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The Shadow Marathon: Ruckers March With Memories

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By: Austin Tedesco

April 18, 2015

After five hours and 16

minutes of marching, John McCarty crossed the finish line Saturday wearing the same equipment he wore as a combat medic in Afghanistan.

Four yellow ribbons hung on the pack he had just carried 26.2 miles across the Battle Road Trail in Concord, each with a name of his former squad members: Staff Sergeant Dain Venne, Sergeant Brett Gornewicz, Specialist Ryan Jayne, and Sergeant Kyle Clifton.

Venne, Gornewicz, and Jayne were all killed in a roadside bombing attack while conducting route-clearing duties in Paktiya. Clifton was severely injured.

McCarty, 50, of Walpole, was the first person to cross the finish line at Saturday’s Tough Ruck, a shadow Boston Marathon that partners with the Boston Athletic Association.

“It was kind of emotional,’’ McCarty told, choking up slightly as he listed his friends’ names. He still keeps in close touch with members of his Army platoon, including Ian Tweedale, who also marched Saturday.

This is the second year that the Tough Ruck has taken place in Concord. It started in 2013 as a way to raise money for families of fallen soldiers. The trek followed the Boston Marathon route, with service members carrying 30- to 60-pound packs. Many of the ruckers rushed to help at the finish line when the bombings happened, including Carlos Arrendondo, the famed “man in the cowboy hat’’ who helped save Jeffrey Bauman’s life.

Last year, due partly to security concerns, the B.A.A. disallowed any unregistered participants from joining the marathon, including the ruckers. Before, they had enjoyed a kind of tacit permission to march.

The decision to exclude the ruckers upset people last year—especially because it came only a month before the race, forcing the ruckers to scramble to find another location before they settled on Concord—but ruckers are embracing the new location, according to Sarah Keller-Likins, executive director of the Military Friends Foundation, a non-profit supporting families of servicemembers. The Tough Ruck raises funds for the group.

“While it is separate from the marathon course there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm,’’ Keller-Likins said. “It’s great to carry the feel of Boston here in Concord, where the original patriots were.’’

This was McCarty’s first time doing the Tough Ruck. He finished patrolling in 2012 and got home from Afghanistan in 2013. He thought about doing the Boston Marathon that year, but decided against it. This year, he wanted to do something for his squad.

He took his very last block of leave in November of 2012 to go home and see his daughter for her birthday, which was on the 10th. While he was gone, his squad’s truck was hit by an IED on November 3. McCarty spent most of his leave going to funerals.

He said he was moved by all of the volunteers across the course.

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