Soldiers earned same medals, certificates

Updated: April 18, 2005, 2:39 PM ET
Associated Press

Air Force Staff Sgt. Dominic DeCicco ran the Boston Marathon on Monday, without coming within 6,000 miles of the actual finish line.

Yet DeCicco and about 250 other soldiers stationed in southern Iraq earned the same medals and certificates awarded to those finishing the famed Boston run. For a few hours, "The Boston Marathon in Iraq" allowed DeCicco and the other soldiers to concentrate on something other than the perils of war.

"The run gave everyone something to look forward to for the last few weeks," DeCicco, of Coral Springs, Fla., said in a postrace e-mail interview Monday with The Associated Press.

Organizers went to great length in giving the Iraqi course a true Boston feel.

The same marathon signage and Outdoor Life Network banners that lined the course to Boston was posted along the Iraqi route, which was centered near the Ziggurat of Ur -- a 4,000-year-old, 40-foot-high temple tower and one of the region's famed archaeological and religious sites.

Runners got the same T-shirts, same style of bib numbers, same water bottles as the Boston competitors. And OLN, which broadcast the bigger marathon live in the United States, aired taped segments of the Iraqi run that ended a few hours before runners left Hopkinton on their 26.2-mile trek to Boston.

"People thought I was crazy to hold a marathon in a combat zone," said Capt. Rodney Freeman of the New Hampshire National Guard, the Iraqi event lead organizer. "But as time passed, more and more soldiers signed up. We've motivated the troops to challenge themselves by doing something beyond their normal abilities."

DeCicco, who said he's been a serious runner for about three years, was part of a four-man relay entry. He did the first 6.7-mile leg of the race, one that didn't begin with the pop of a starter's pistol -- but the blast of an M-16 rifle.

"I'm sure most people running in Boston will never get to experience that," said DeCicco, who finished his run in 56 minutes, handling temperatures that reached the 90s. "So I guess that has its own significance."

DeCicco, who is married and has three young sons, is stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. He's on his fourth deployment to the Middle East in the last four years, and works as what's called a "Water Walker" -- someone who handles all base-to-base communications.

"This is my first marathon; that is why I ran it as a relay," DeCicco said. "I always wanted to run a marathon. Just never went out and did it."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press