Airman competes in Marine Corps marathon, helps military charity

  • Published
  • By Sarah Olaciregui
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
What was initially a goal to run in a marathon turned out to be the first step on what is sure to be a long journey for Senior Airman Dennis Cooke.

Distance running is somewhat of a new pastime for Airman Cooke, from the 66th Medical Squadron's Mental Health Flight. Just a couple of years ago, the Airman couldn't have imagined running a few miles, much less 26.2.

But, after arriving at Hanscom, he decided to make the best out of his time in the Boston area and set a goal of one day running in the Boston Marathon.

"When I was going through basic training, I couldn't run a mile and a half without sucking wind," he said. "I got over that hurdle, and I decided to start pushing myself."

Airman Cooke looked online and found a 16-week marathon training program for first-time runners. The program called for him to build up endurance until he was able to run up to 30 miles in a week.

His first test was the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in September.

"I ran with a pacer set to finish the race in three-forty (three hours and 40 minutes)," he said. "The pacer was a huge help. I knew this pace was not enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but thought it was a good starting point for my first try."

The Airman ended up finishing the race in 3:50 with his mind set on someday shaving nearly an hour off his time during another qualifying race.

On the plane ride home, Airman Cooke was chatting with someone on the plane about other marathons when another opportunity presented itself.

"We were talking about how everyone says the Marine Corps Marathon is the best service marathon," he said. "A lady sitting a few seats away overheard us and told me she had one more spot for this marathon as long as I was willing to raise money for the Fisher House."

Without hesitation, he agreed.

The Fisher House Foundation provides a "home away from home" for military families to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury, according the their website,

"Especially being in the mental health field, I know how much family members need help during tough times," he said. "In order to run, I had to raise at least $500."

Airman Cooke created a website and began telling his friends and family about the worthy cause. To date, he has collected nearly $3,000.

"People were able to donate as much or as little as they wanted to," he said. "They could include their name with the donation or donate anonymously."

The money will be used to build a new Fisher House at the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Now, with the money raised and training in full swing, Airman Cooke is ready to start the next leg of his journey in Arlington, Va., on Oct. 30.

"This next marathon has a two-fold purpose for me," he said. "First, marathon running represents a dedication to maintain and promote the 'fit to fight' culture. Marathon training in particular ties in very tightly with the values that the Air Force and the mental health element promote."

He stresses that running has proven to have numerous positive effects on an individual's total well-being. Research has shown that running can be more effective in combating depression than common anti-depressant medications. Studies have also suggested that running stimulates the brain in such a way that individuals may also see improvements in concentration, memory and overall brain functioning.

In particular, marathon training requires the ability make a long-term fitness goal involving a well thought out training plan, according to Airman Cooke.

"We often refer to these goals as SMART goals -- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, trackable or timely," he said. "The HAWC (Health and Wellness Center) even covers these goals during a Be-Well class every Tuesday."

But Airman Cooke's second and ultimate purpose in running the Marine Corps Marathon is to honor all of his fellow service men and women who are not able to run.

"I think it's important for us to remember that some of our fellow servicemembers are unable to get up and run today as a result of the sacrifices they have made to this great nation," he said. "For this reason, I will be proudly running the Marine Corps Marathon as a representative for the Fisher House organization."

To learn more about Airman Cooke's journey, visit