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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 31, 2024

What makes Tom’s Run the best team building exercise in the nation’s capital?

By Friends of Tom’s Run

On a bright afternoon last June at Fort Hunt Park, Virginia, approximately 100 people from all walks of life trudged in, sleep-deprived, but smiling from ear-to-ear.  

They had just completed a 200-mile relay run from Cumberland, Maryland to a decorated pavilion in Fort Hunt Park (not far from George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, Virginia) along the historic picturesque Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal.  

High-fives echoed all around, and welcoming music created a festive air as successful competitors donned silver t-shirts and matching silver medals. These were handed out to all the team members in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Tom’s Run, an annual event that honors Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom Brooks, an avid fitness booster, who contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in early 1999.  

Brooks had a reputation within the service for his ability to get couch potatoes up and moving. When he was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), his friends got together to show their appreciation. Led by Doug Clapp, a captain in the Office of Reserve Affairs, they created a team and community-building fitness event that would become the world’s largest fun run.  

Lt. Phil Brookings was the first event coordinator, and he was floored to see support, funds, and runners show up from Coast Guard Headquarters, Hampton Roads, Pittsburgh, and other areas across the service. Tom Brooks, who had biked, hiked, and canoed the C&O Canal trail himself for many years, was also there to cheer the team on—an athlete, supporter and friend until the bitter end. 

A first-time participant takes charge 

In 2007, then Lt. Cmdr. (ret.) Roger Butturini ran his first Tom’s Run. Afterwards, he was head-over-heels for the event. As fate would have it, Chief Warrant Officer Raymond Handle, the event coordinator, had orders to transfer to the Middle East in 2007. So, with a little encouragement from then Cmdr. Dana Thomas, Butturini, stepped up to the start and finish lines, and took over all the logistics in between Cumberland, Maryland and points 200 miles south.   

During his 16-year tenure, Tom’s Run has seen over 240 teams or roughly 3,600 runners participate covering more than 48,000 miles with another 96,000 miles on bikes. Novice runners, marathon runners, long distance bikers, and families who only bike together on the weekends, will train for months to show up to conquer the 200-mile relay in Tom’s honor. (Runners never leave the course, even at night, and are accompanied by bike escorts at all times.) 

Butturini begins and ends Tom’s Run the same way at the kickoff pizza party and the closing picnic, addressing the crowd,  

“This event is unlike any other in that most events of this nature start as a group but end separately. Tom’s Run brings people together, and as a backwards race, we all end up at the finish line together as a group. Along the way, logistical challenges will be overcome, physical hardships addressed, and mental fortitude tested. Camaraderie is fostered tremendously.” 

For the past 16 years, Butturini has managed nearly every aspect of race organization, rain or shine. A current Coast Guard civilian and avid runner, he’s kept Tom’s Run alive almost single-handedly. But even the best assignments come to an end. As noted in ALCOAST 193/24, Butturini passed mantle to retired Cmdr. Paul Schurke. 

Since then, Schurke has been busy, applying for permits, ordering shirts and medals, responding to messages, managing the website, and ensuring availability of reservations for parks and hotels. Next comes the fun part, collecting money, mentoring new team leaders, and a highly valued member of Baltimore team Express. 

 If anyone feels the Spirit of Tom Brooks and wants to participate in the TR 2024 on June 1-2, we always have space for runners, cyclists, and supporters.  

Bravo Zulu, Roger– 18 years of friendship is only one example of how Camaraderie has most certainly been fostered…tremendously. You have brought us ‘together’ Thank you!