Construction management junior and Marine Sgt. Brad McKee cross trains for his 100-mile marathon. The run begins April 3 in St. Bernard Parish and will benefit wounded soldiers and their families.
Student to run 100 miles for wounded soldiers
News stations called him the “Ultra-marathon man,” after completing 100 miles dedicated to the troops. Reconnaissance Marine Keith Zeier served with the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and the Marine Special Operations Battalion until he was injured by an IED, improvised explosive device, in 2006. With permanent muscle and nerve damage in his left leg and a severe head injury, Zeier’s career with the Marine Corps was finished. His service, however, was just beginning.
Last year, Zeier ran the 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West, Fla. All of the money raised went to families of fallen soldiers. His story was broadcast across the nation, inspiring many, but putting one into action. Construction management junior and Marine Sgt. Brad McKee saw Zeier’s story. That same night, McKee met up with two of his childhood friends and discussed the idea of running his own 100-mile ultra-marathon.
Running 100 miles wasn’t just a random thought for McKee. In 2003, he graduated from high school and joined many of his classmates at Southeastern University. During his first year of college, McKee often saw news stories and broadcasts featuring people his age, and even younger, serving the country in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was starting to feel like college wasn’t right for me,” he said. “But I knew joining the Marine Corps was right for me.”
McKee said he grew up in what he calls a traditional, conservative family that looks up to those serving the country in military form. McKee has uncles and grandfathers who have served the country, but he made this decision on his own.
“I didn’t consult anyone in my decision,” he said. “I’ve always mentioned working in the police force, and I have a great amount of patriotism.”
Without telling his family, friends or girlfriend, McKee signed up for the Marine Corps, a smaller occupying force which trains individuals for ground, aviation and logistics combat. McKee took his final exams early, told everyone his plan and began intense training at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
McKee served four years of active duty as a sniper, going to Iraq in 2005 and again in 2007.
“There were so many times I saw my life flash before my eyes,” he said. “But I learned what’s important in life and how you should attack life; I stay positive.”
During active duty, McKee met a fellow marine with unique tattoo on his chest, reading, “Disposable Hero.” The marine explained his love for his country was so intense, he was willing to do anything for the freedom of others. McKee said they saw themselves as disposable, in both positive and negative light.
“Many times on the news, a lost soldier is just a number without the story,” he said. “However, we are willing to take that risk. We know it when we sign the dotted line.”
After four years of service, McKee had a decision to make—stay or go. He promised himself if he got out, he would continue to serve those who have served him. So in May 2008, McKee returned to the states and started taking classes at LSU. Shortly afterward, he saw Zeier’s story and made a connection—he would serve others by running 100 miles.
And so, The Disposable Heroes Project was born. On April 3, McKee will run from St. Bernard Parish to Cate Square Park in Hammond, his hometown. The money raised from sponsors will go to the families of wounded soldiers. In order to keep these men and women from just being a number, McKee has vowed to share their stories.
McKee’s childhood friends are taping the journey, including the people they meet and the lives they change, which will be made into a documentary at the end of the project.
“We’ve heard a lot of stories nationally,” McKee said. “But we want to find the local wounded warriors. Those are the ones we want to focus on and help their families. Supporting our troops is more than a yellow ribbon on your car.”
McKee said it’s important to include local veterans in events and holiday traditions because some of them may not have family. Instead of throwing money at the problem blindly, McKee said financial assistance will be given based on each person, whether it comes in the form of paying bills, supplying food or even basketball tickets.
Between the project, school, training and working to open his own gym, McKee said last semester was very busy, but he welcomed it. The Disposable Heroes group has been traveling to speak about their mission, along with selling t-shirts and rubber bracelets to support wounded veterans.
In his lifetime, McKee said he’s never run more than 10 consecutive miles. Late last year, McKee participated in the Marine Corps Marathon and the New York Marathon—where he met his inspiration, Zeier.
“We each had a 50 pound pack on our backs,” he said. “I ran the first mile, but my left knee locked up, and I had to limp the rest of the way. I reached the finish line with five seconds to spare.”
McKee said his training method was very regimented at first, but his knees have forced him into intense cross training, instead of running. Despite running such a long way in a day, McKee said he has the same positive mentality.
“I will accomplish the mission; my goal is to finish the race,” he said. “Even if I’m limping or crawling, I will always be in forward motion.”
McKee is inviting any wounded warrior, family members of fallen soldiers and law enforcement to participate in his run. He is searching for well-known athletes or local celebrities to run portions of the race to help raise awareness about his project. The final three miles of the race are open to the public for participation. McKee and his fellow runners will be welcomed at the finish line with food and music for a celebration.
“It’s so important to raise awareness for these soldiers,” he said. “I’m hoping to take the wounded out of the warrio r, if only for a day.”
Anyone interested in participating in the marathon or the project is encouraged to contact McKee at 985.687.2830.
Holly A. Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations