Kentucky Guardsmen race in marathon

By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

The Kentucky Marathon Team: Sgt.1st Class Michael Embury, Maj. Varinka Ensminger, Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson, Capt. Ron Shashy, CW3 Allen Davis, Spc. Korey Johnson, 2nd Lt. Donald Furman, Sgt. 1st Class Amy Parker, Sgt. Angela Sullivan and Staff Sgt. David Sullivan.(Nebraska Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Anna Pongo)

LINCOLN, Neb. – A group of ten Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard took part in the 42nd annual Lincoln National Guard Marathon May 5.

They joined the nearly 170 Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from across the United States to compete in the marathon. These National Guard runners represented 46 states and two territories.

The Kentucky Marathon Team consisted of: Sgt.1st Class Michael Embury, Maj. Varinka Ensminger, Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson, Capt. Ron Shashy, CW3 Allen Davis, Spc. Korey Johnson, 2nd Lt. Donald Furman, Sgt. 1st Class Amy Parker, Sgt. Angela Sullivan and Staff Sgt. David Sullivan.

All of the ten Kentucky runners finished the race and won 5th place in the overall competition but there were a several standout single accomplishments.

The top runners at Sunday’s race were selected as members of the 2019 “All Guard” Marathon Team, which travels to promote the National Guard and assist in recruiting and retention efforts across the United States. Five of the Kentucky runners qualified for the “All Guard” team. Two were rookies of the event: Shashy and Johnson. The other three were veterans of the race: Ensminger, Parker and Embury.

Maj. Varinka Ensminger , with the Medical Detachment, was the top female finisher in the 35-39 year old age group .

“It was an honor to represent my state and return to the podium,” said Ensminger. “I hope it inspires younger runners, especially females in the Guard to take on the marathon.  This is my thirteenth year representing the National Guard Marathon and I have podiumed every year (1, 2 or 3rd).”

But for the long time participant in this race, this year was a little harder. She lost the person who inspired her to run.

“This year was hard and not just from the hot, humid weather,” added Esminger.  “I ran with a heavy heart. My father passed away March 1st. He was there for me when I ran my first road race and we’ve been running marathons together since 2001.”

Although the team members all finished, there was a little bit of drama for one of the members.  During the race, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Allen Davis was admitted to the ER at mile 19 and came back and finished in an unofficial clock time of 6:08 (He was cleared and released- indigestion caused him chest pain).

Overcoming adversity is a common thread amongst this team. Sgt. Angela Sullivan lost her leg in 2017 due to Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that typically develops in the shin bone near the knee, but she didn’t let that stop her from running and now her teammates look to her for inspiration.

“The most profound thing I experienced during the Guard Marathon weekend was during the Roll Call of States when Angela, (SGT Sullivan) stood up and spoke about her experience over the last year with her amputation and to see the reaction of the room,” said Staff Sgt. David Sullivan.  “To see all states present stand up and applaud in support, as well as a few misty eyes.  It really demonstrates that this is a family, not just within the borders of our state, but reaches out to wherever the National Guard is present.”

The team captain echoed those sentiments.

“I run because I can,” said Ensminger. “When I get tired I remember those that can’t run and what they would give to have this simple gift and I run harder for them, like my teammate SGT Angela Sullivan who was sidelined this past year with cancer. She cheered so loud and when I said I was tired, she just yelled, shut up and run! All I could think about was that she wished she was out here with us hot and tired and knew I must do this for her!”

For the newcomers to the team, being a part of this event was a good experience and gave them opportunities to be with other Guard members doing something they love.

“As a rookie to the Kentucky National Guard Marathon Team and to the Lincoln Marathon, I was unsure of what to expect.  Since leaving the Marine Corps and attending medical school it was difficult to find the motivation and excuses to leave the books and get back to fitness,” said 2nd Lt. Don Furman.  “Having this marathon and the teams support made it possible to achieve a personal best.  It is exactly the support and camaraderie, not just from other Kentucky team members, but from all of the members of the National Guard teams that I love about the military.”

The competition is designed to promote physical fitness and military readiness in the National Guard. For more information about the Kentucky National Guard Marathon Team, contact Maj. Varinka Ensminger at varinka.b.esminger.mil@mail.mil