Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Love Team RWB: A Civilian's Perspective

Saturday was my "Meet and Greet" with Team Red, White, and Blue. Luke, the Chapter Leader for Team RWB Los Angeles coordinated it. He introduced me to the organization, and has taken me under his wing during the last year, as my champion and my friend. I

I wish I would have thought of some words to say to the wonderful people who showed up to show their support, to tell them why I'm running for RWB. Since I missed my opportunity, I'm writing this blog, in hopes that it will reach Team members of RWB as well as veterans who could benefit from what they offer.

First of all, I'm not a veteran. I'm a civilian. I'm supporting Team RWB because I think they really deserve it. 

When I decided to run across the United States, I had the opportunity to choose any cause in the world to support. I didn't have anyone telling me what to do, and I could have chosen to save the bees, or the whales, or starving children in Africa, whatever. But I really wanted to pick the cause that was the most worthy. 

When I started reaching out to veterans that I knew, I talked to them about their experience in the military. I immediately started to understand the huge sacrifices that many have made and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they encounter upon coming home…and  a funny thing happened. I empathized with them. I started to care. A lot. The three things that are most important in life above all others--  kindness, compassion, and empathy (recognizing yourself in others)-- are things that veterans need more than any other group of people. Veterans have been through some really gnarly stuff, stuff that makes my"trauma" look more like drama. And it seems to only get harder for a lot of them once they get home.

I decided to run for veterans. 

I want to raise awareness among civilians about what veterans have to teach civilians about dedication, brotherhood, discipline, and what it means to serve in the military. That's why I started Face America with Miss Robot Photography, a collaborative artistic project that is dedicated to telling veterans' stories on film.

My main goal, however,  is to raise awareness among veterans that there is an entire country full of amazing people that are here for them. There are people everywhere looking for opportunities give their support, to be a friend, to be generous and kind. Trust me, I meet them every day. But you have to get out of the house to find them. You have to take the first step.

While looking for an organization to support, I found Team RWB. Actually, they found me. 

 I was running the Hollywood Half Marathon and I spotted two guys running side by side, donning red long-sleeved t-shirts. One proudly carried an American flag, making the duo extremely visible from half a mile away. I approached them after the race, and met Luke Farnell and Shawn Parsons, two members of Team RWB Los Angeles. They described what Team RWB does, gave me a red bracelet, and told me to join. Their willingness to embrace and include me in their circle touched me, especially because I am a civilian.

This is how Team RWB will look when you
see them at a race. This is Luke Farnell,
from Team RWB Los Angeles. 
When I went home later that night, I researched what Team RWB does for veterans, and I immediately realized that they were the organization that I wanted to support. What I love about Team RWB is that once you join, you get to choose your own level of involvement.

You really get out of it what you put into it. You can show up to events every once in a while, and have fun with a bunch of people who openly accept you and embrace you. Or you can get really involved, and embrace the community that has been created almost entirely by people who have the passion and desire to help each other and make a difference.

Veterans who join Team RWB become a part of a new family. The heart of organization lies in it's members, who support each other in more ways than just offering them a Clif Bar at mile 16 in a marathon. Veterans in RWB help each other move out of their houses, fix broken-down cars, and find new jobs. It's incredible. The most impressive part of RWB isn't their integrity, stellar leadership, or the passion of it's members…it's the outpouring of love I see members giving each other at every event.

They really are creating a network of support, instead of simply talking about it. And it's working.

Team RWB gets people out of their houses and doing physical activity, which for me was the key to start tackling anxiety, depression, and other issues I've dealt with in my life that find their roots in traumatic experience.

 I found when I was in my darkest place, I wanted to isolate, and I felt paralyzed when I was confronted with situations where I was expected to make myself vulnerable to another person. Running helped. A lot. In fact, it was the key to healing my broken heart and my broken spirit.  Running exhausts me, so all the adrenaline that I feel for no reason when I wake up in the morning, the jumpiness and nervousness that shows up as anxiety, gets burned off. I finish long runs feeling happy, like I just did a deep cleaning session on my psyche and my body.

Running next to someone else creates a sense of camaraderie. You automatically are in tune not only with your own body, but with the body of the person that is running next to you. If you are running together, or as a team, you know that you can only go so far as the person you are running with. And every once in a while, you have these gorgeous moments of silence, only listening to footsteps and breath, transcending language and finding a news way of connecting with each other.

When I run long enough with another person like that, walls start to break down. I let myself become vulnerable, and it feels natural. It feels safe.  I start to get real, talking about everything from spirituality, to my biggest fears, to my dreams and the things that I hold dearest to me. I laugh a lot, and sometimes, when it gets really hard, and when I don't want to go another step, I cry. And it's okay. We walk it out, we get a beer, and we laugh about it on the next run, when all the pain feels like a distant memory.

If running does this for me, I think it will help veterans too. And Team RWB is making it possible. 

After a 30 mile run with Navy veteran, Sean Litzenberger.
Running is a bonding experience. 
I hope to make the rest of the country aware of Team RWB as I am running across it. Team RWB members are meeting me as I run, and hopefully running, walking, or biking next to me as I traverse the country. In Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth, Shreveport, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

If you are a runner, or a member of Team RWB, or simply someone who is inspired by this project, please connect with me on Facebook, and share this blog if you want to help.

I'd love to hear from you. More than that, I'd love to meet you in person, to run a few miles, or more than a few miles. What I'm doing isn't easy, and I'm going to need people who will help me stay positive and focused on my purpose--to create opportunities for others to experience compassion, community, and love- and in doing so, to enrich the lives of America's veterans, one step at a time.


  1. Amazing and inspiring! Thanks for all your doing to bring awareness!

  2. Diane, thank you for reading my blog. I'm just doing my part. I'm grateful for your support. It really fuels me. Where are you located? Will you be able to come out for my run?

  3. Awesome blog entry, Anna, - so inspiring. I'm getting so excited to track you in your run across America. And what a great organization!!

  4. When you come thru Dallas make sure to let the Team RWB DFW chapter know. We would love to help you!

  5. This is so beautiful. You are so beautiful Anna! I am truly inspired by your words, and even more by your actions. I agree, TeamRWB is an amazing organization that I'm very proud to be part of. Thank you so much for supporting our veterans. :)