KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It started as part of a unit competition to run over 100 miles in a month in order to earn a day off from duty. One airman decided to take the competition a step further and ran the 84 mile distance to Frankfurt and back — one Saturday at a time.
Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Swanson, a technician with Air Force Technical Application Center Detachment 319 on Vogelweh Air Base, doesn’t look like a stereotypical muscle-bound athlete. And the bespectacled Bartlett, Tennessee-native acknowledges candidly he’s not the most physically-inclined.
“I’ve never been the most athletic of the lot,” Swanson said. “But I am determined. I set myself a goal, and I planned to achieve it.”
After winning a day off during the first month of his unit’s competition and earning his highest score ever (a 93 out of 100 possible points) on the Air Force Physical Fitness Test, Swanson decided that running would be a great way to see the German countryside and help him to maintain physical readiness. He also decided that it would be fun to see if he could reach a specific destination through cumulative runs.
“After looking at a map I realized that Frankfurt would be a great end point for a running quest. It was far enough to be challenging, but it was still a reasonable and realistic distance goal,” he said.
Armed with a global positioning system, online maps and American ingenuity, Swanson dedicated his Saturday mornings to completing this task, dodging a few mishaps along the way. Joining him on the adventure was his 4-year-old son, Sean, who ran part of the way with his dad and spent the rest of the trip in a jogging stroller.
“We started at my house and ran about 2 miles and back, marking the end point of the 2-mile segment in my GPS. The next week we drove to that 2-mile marker and repeated the process, running anywhere from 2 to 10 miles at a time. It took a while, but we made it,” Swanson said.
His unique journey put Swanson’s determination as well as his stamina to the test. There were days of running in rain and others of excessive heat. A few icy trails also kept him on his toes. “I didn’t want to get hurt so I took those days really slow,” he said.
One day he nearly ran onto the German autobahn — a legendary conduit for speedy sports cars. “The GPS took me on a trail that ended alongside the A6. After realizing that the cars were flying by at high speed, I turned around fast. The next week I made sure to plot a route that avoided highways,” Swanson said.
In addition to the physical accomplishment of running more than 170 miles over 20 segments, Swanson said he learned a lot about himself along the way. He also feels that his father-son relationship is much stronger as a result of the shared journey.
“I learned that if I set my mind to do something, I can achieve it,” Swanson said. “I am so much more confident than I was a year ago. I also improved my orienteering skills — this can come in useful, especially if I am deployed in an unknown environment.”
And for his next quest, Swanson plans to run from Denver to Colorado Springs. “I PCS to Colorado in a few months and what better way to see the Rocky Mountains than to run alongside them,” he said.
With his positive attitude and determination, he is sure to accomplish his objectives in the Rockies as he did in the Rhineland — as long as he stays off Interstate 70.
Written by Marisa Novobilski and republished with permission from the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS). For similar contents, you may wish to sign up at the DVIDS site and subscribe to RSS feeds for your hometown.