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Marathon Run Pays Huge Dividends For Escalon Duo
It was unlike anything they had ever experienced ... or expected.

Escalon residents Mike Pitassi and Gregg Churchill, in training for the last several months for the Marine Corps Marathon hosted in Washington, DC on Halloween, found the trip to be less about the run and more about everything else.

Both men raised funds for the Semper Fi Foundation, which helps wounded warriors and their families, helping pay for treatment, care and often just the daily needs like groceries and utility bills when an injured service member can't work.

The 26.2-mile run was something both were able to complete, and both said they were inspired along the way.

"I got like a 20-second interview on D.C. television," Pitassi said. "It's weird to get interviewed at any time, let alone after a 26-mile run."

The run, he added, turned out to be a "secondary thing" to the people he was able to meet, the stories he heard and the courage he observed.

"So many wounded kids in that crowd," Pitassi said of those that lined the marathon route cheering the runners on and those that were watching as he was called up on stage after the run, recognized for bringing in the second highest total of individual donations - $7,172 - at the event.

"When I was up on that stage getting recognized, I just kept thinking 'I shouldn't be here'," Pitassi said, noting it is the wounded veterans that should be onstage, being honored for their service and sacrifice. "It was so humbling ... so amazing."

Pitassi and his wife Karen flew out Tuesday night before the Sunday, Oct. 31 marathon and spent a few days in the D.C. area. Churchill, who has been training with Pitassi for the marathon for several months, arrived on Thursday.

"It was quite an experience," agreed Churchill. "We went to a dinner hosted by the Semper Fi Foundation that Saturday night and met a lot of the guys they have helped.

"They are an amazing group of people, both Semper Fi and the service members that are supported by them."

Churchill said it was inspirational to meet service members, many missing limbs or having difficulty readjusting to civilian life, that are still striving to be the best they can be,

"Their optimistic outlook, they are going forward with the optimism to achieve their hopes and dreams," Churchill said with admiration. "They are setting a high standard and this was a great thing to be a part of."

Pitassi said watching wounded veterans take part in the race was also humbling, including passing by a group that included one in a wheelchair and others assisting him who had physical limitations of their own.

"At one point around the 10-mile mark I was climbing a grade. I was starting to feel the burn a bit and in front of me were four Marines in working uniforms struggling up the hill," Pitassi said.

Two were assisting a young man in a hand cranking-bicycle type wheelchair, one was out front paving the way through the crowd.

"As I passed them I glanced over my shoulder and saw a picture that will stay with me forever," Pitassi added. "The Marine to the left assisting with a hand on the back of the chair was missing his left arm and left eye and he wasn't hiding the fact, the Marine on the chair's right was missing both legs, the Marine out front was missing his right leg below the knee.

"The young man in the chair was not only paralyzed but was cranking the bike gear with only his right arm, his left missing above the elbow ... each young man was focused, red faced, sweating as they struggled along knowing that 13 miles lay ahead. It took me two miles to compose myself."

It was the knowledge that their donations would help wounded warriors that kept Pitassi and Churchill pushing to the end.

"It really did make the run secondary," said Churchill, who said the joy of finishing his first-ever marathon was coupled with the thought that it was for a good purpose.

He came within a couple hundred dollars of his $5,000 goal but admitted it now seems like so little.

"After meeting these people and seeing all that they do, I really don't think we can ever do enough," Churchill said. "I'd love to do it again."

Pitassi said he was honored to share the experience with Churchill and proud to be wearing a shirt that honored James 'Doc' Layton, a Navy corpsman who died in the line of duty in September 2009. Pitassi's own sons grew up with Layton and the memory of Layton was a driving force for Pitassi to get involved with the Marine Corps Marathon.

"I only saw one 'Go Giants' T-shirt during the entire 26.2 miles. What I did see were people who had very personal connections who were running to honor and respect someone they loved," Pitassi said. "In the end Gregg and I agreed that this race helped us know our country better and ourselves. Running with James Layton's image was an honor. This kid grew up with mine from the same great little town of Escalon from a place of good, hard working people.

"We have always been proud Americans and this experience brought renewed understanding of why. For all those people who supported us and gave to the Semper Fi Fund we sincerely wish to thank you. Your money is well spent to support these young wounded soldiers and their families."