RETIRED STAFF SGT. GLYNDON G. MURPHY
Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have many things in common, one of which is running. Some run only when it is time for their physical fitness tests, while others may run as a hobby. Regardless of the reason, running is a part of who we are as service members. I didn’t realize how big a part of my life running was until it was taken away.
It was the day that would change my life forever. I had decided to relax with a run in the beautiful North Carolina weather, so I put on my PT gear — ensuring I was wearing lightly colored attire — tied my running shoes and took off out the door. I’d been taught as a child to walk and run facing traffic to ensure you have time to react in the event something comes toward you. On this day, however, the side of the road that I normally ran on was blocked off by the Department of Transportation for repair. This gave me a bad feeling, but I decided it was probably just due to my normal routine being disrupted.
I figured the safest place to run would be the grass adjacent to the road shoulder. That would give me a buffer zone from the traffic that would be coming from behind me. With my earbuds in and music cranked to block out the road noise, I took off. I was about a mile and a half into it when everything went black.
Four days later, I woke up in the hospital. I had no idea what had happened and why there were restraints on my wrists and legs. I began to panic. I wanted to know why I was there. A nurse entered my room and instructed me to remain still. It was then that I looked down and noticed my stomach was swollen like a basketball. I also had an 18-inch row of staples running down my mid-section.
The next several days were a blur. When I was finally more alert, a nurse explained what had happened to me. Based on witness reports, she said a car struck me from behind while I was running, leaving me with several crushed vertebrae in my spinal column. Had I not been in such good shape thanks to my military PT, the doctors believed I would have very likely spent the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
The road to recovery was excruciating, and at times I wanted to give up due to the intensity of the pain that radiated throughout my body. For the first several months, I was heavily medicated as I used a wheelchair and walker to assist me in walking laps around the floor. Eventually, I was placed in a brace that covered my entire back and most of the front portion of my body. Fortunately, my recuperation was faster than the doctors and surgeons expected. I attribute this to the warrior’s ethos of never giving up and continuing to keep in the fight no matter what.
When I was released from the hospital, I was relieved that I could finally rejoin my loved ones and continue my rehabilitation at home. Getting adjusted to not being able work and lead my junior service members was very difficult for me to accept. I loved serving my country and leading troops. I felt as though my entire identity had been stripped away from me. As you can imagine, I went through a period of sorrow. That sorrow turned to anger, though, when I was told the young man who struck me with his car had likely been texting while driving. All of this might have been avoided had he chosen to not drive distracted.
Running is a great sport and an excellent stress reliever — at least it was until the day of my accident. I learned some valuable lessons from this experience that will stick with me forever. First, if you are unable to run on a trail or sidewalk, pick a route or path that keeps you protected from traffic. Second — but equally important — be aware of your surroundings at all times. Third, make sure you wear a reflective belt and lightly colored clothing to make yourself more noticeable. Fourth, unless you are on a designated running trail, leave the earbuds at home. Had I not been wearing mine that day, I might have heard the vehicle approaching.
The final lesson I learned didn't come from my perspective as a runner, but as a driver. I know, with certainty, that no one should ever text while driving. There are already enough distractions on the road, like pedestrians. Be proactive rather than reactive. You don't want your next run — or someone else’s — to be the last.
The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) offers the following tips to help keep you safe when running:
- Don’t wear headphones or earbuds. Use your ears to be aware of your surroundings. Your ears may help you avoid dangers your eyes may miss during evening or early morning runs.
- Run against traffic so you can observe approaching automobiles. By facing oncoming traffic, you may be able to react quicker than if it is behind you.
- Look both ways before crossing. Be sure the driver of a car acknowledges your right-of-way before crossing in front of a vehicle. Obey traffic signals.
- Carry identification or write your name, phone number and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe. Include any medical information.
- Always stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.
- Carry a cellphone or change for a phone call. Know the locations of public phones along your regular route.
- Trust your intuition about a person or an area. Act on your intuition and avoid a person or situation if you’re unsure. If something tells you a situation is not right, it isn’t.
- Alter or vary your running route pattern, but run in familiar areas if possible. In unfamiliar areas, such as while traveling, contact a local RRCA club or running supplies store. Know where open businesses or stores are located in case of emergency.
- Run with a partner or a dog.
- Write down or leave directions of your run. Tell friends and family of your favorite running routes.
- Avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets and overgrown trails. Avoid unlit areas, especially at night. Run clear of parked cars or bushes.
- Ignore verbal harassment and do not verbally harass others. Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
- Wear reflective material if you must run before dawn or after dark. Avoid running on the street when it is dark.
- Practice memorizing license tags or identifying characteristics of strangers.
- Carry a noisemaker. Get training in self-defense.
- When using multi-use trails, follow the rules of the road. If you alter your direction, look over your shoulder before crossing the trail to avoid a potential collision with an oncoming cyclist or passing runner.
- Call police immediately if something happens to you or someone else, or you notice anyone out of the ordinary. It is important to report incidents immediately.