Tuesday , 17 September 2019

For Marine Widow, Emotions Are Biggest Marathon Struggle

Destiny (left) and running partner Erika Hipple (right) hold hands with two other women at the Arlington National Cemetery graves of their loved ones, who died in the Black Hawk crash in March.
Destiny (left) and three other women hold hands at the Arlington National Cemetery graves of their loved ones, who all died in the Black Hawk crash in March.

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Many marathon runners endure 26.2 miles of agony for a reason – to remember a family member, to raise money for a good cause or just to see how far they can push themselves. For one Marine Corps widow and first-time marathoner, it just happens to be all three.

Destiny Flynn is running the 40th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., this weekend to honor the memory of her husband, Marine Corps Special Operations Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn.

Marine Corps Special Operations Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn on one of his last deployments. Photo courtesy of Destiny Flynn.
Marine Corps Special Operations Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn on one of his last deployments. Photo courtesy of Destiny Flynn.

In March, Liam died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash during a training exercise near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Six other Marines and four Louisiana National Guard members perished with him.

In the seven months since, Destiny has struggled through lots of firsts without Liam, including the first birthday of their daughter, Leilani, and her first Memorial Day as a widow. She’ll soon be facing another huge challenge – the marathon – but it’s one she volunteered for, however daunting.

“I like being fit, but 26.2 miles is beyond insanity to me,” she said.

Thankfully, she won’t be doing it alone. Destiny and a few other women are running to honor all fallen Marines. She’s personally raising money for the MARSOC Foundation, which has supported her and her daughter since that fateful March day.

The group made the decision to do the race late – toward the end of the summer – which means their training has been shorter than most. At 39 days before the big day, the team was doing three days of three- to five-mile runs, with a 10-miler tossed in there once a week.

Destiny is an avid exerciser, but running isn’t her specialty, so it’s been a challenge. Her thoughts on training by Sept. 15: “I want to die.”

I think she was kidding.

Thousands of runners begin the 38th annual Marine Corps Marathon, Oct. 27, 2013. Known as "The People's Marathon," the 26.2-mile race was rated the 3rd largest marathon in the U.S. in 2012, drawing 30,000 participants. U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank
Thousands of runners begin the 38th annual Marine Corps Marathon, Oct. 27, 2013. Known as “The People’s Marathon,” the 26.2-mile race was rated the 3rd largest marathon in the U.S. in 2012, drawing 30,000 participants. U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank

“Last week, we decided it was a good idea to run 10 miles on the beach,” she elaborated. “Wow! My body was shot the following week.”

Her love for running – or should I say, lack of – hasn’t exactly increased over time.

“Running is boring,” she said in early October. “We are hurting at 13-15 [miles], to be perfectly honest.”

But it’s not the physical pain she’s worried about.

“I’m actually anxious about the emotional part,” she said. “I feel like the pain I will endure is nothing compared to what my husband and his fellow brothers dealt with.”

It’s definitely not been an easy road. On Oct. 8, Destiny learned that the father of one of her fellow runners – who had lost her fiancée in the same crash as Liam – had died.

“None of us seem to be catching a break in life,” she said.

But in the end, the race will hopefully be worth it.

“We want to finish and accomplish this goal. We feel that our husbands will be cheering us on, and that’s worth more than anything,” she said.

They’ll have plenty of support on the ground on race day, too. All the wives of the men who died with Liam will be there, as well as their children, friends and other family members.

Destiny Flynn (second from right) poses with five of the other women who lost husbands or fiances during the helicopter crash in March. They've become a close group since the tragedy.
Destiny Flynn (second from right) poses with five of the other women who lost husbands or fiances during the helicopter crash in March. They’ve become a close group since the tragedy.

Another source of inspiration: One of the widows of Liam’s crew had a baby this week – a boy who’s now the youngest of seven born to the men who were lost.

“I find seven to be such an amazing number when I think about it: Seven amazing souls taken, leaving seven strong and very humbled women to [look after] seven gifted children that will be able to all call their dads heroes,” Destiny said.

The financial support has also been overwhelming, she said. As of Oct. 22, she’s raised $7,450 – thousands more than her initial goal of $1,500.

“We just want to be able to pay forward the money we raise for the next (MARSOC) family … to get the same support that we received,” she said. “I cannot imagine another family going through what we went through, but to be honest, it’s not if it will happen again, but when it happens.”

Her final thoughts before the big day?

“I think the training was extremely difficult … but the emotional aspect is the hardest. I think heart is going to take us a lot further,” Destiny said. “I heard there is a part of the run called the widow’s mile – that there is a group out there on the sidelines [cheering]. I think that will be the hardest part, but it’s going to be something to push toward.  We all just want to finish, even if we’re crawling.”

She will certainly have a lot of support – the thousands running with her, those cheering from the sidelines, and those watching from above.  Good luck, Destiny!

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