Injured vets embrace life at annual race

Hundreds start the 5-kilometer John Ripley Memorial Race from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium through downtown Annapolis Sunday. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)
Retired Sgt. B.J. Ganem (right) tells the crowd before the race how he lost his leg in Iraq. The names of his fellow marines are written on his prosthetic leg. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)

Jamie Forzato,

ANNAPOLIS – More than 1,000 people braved the brisk temperatures Sunday morning to run in the 4th Annual John Ripley Memorial Race and show their support for wounded veterans.

The 5-kilometer race benefited the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to disabled military veterans and their families.

B.J. Ganem, a retired Marine Corps sergeant, served in Iraq until he was injured on Thanksgiving night in 2004.

“I lost my left leg to an IED. We lost five guys in my unit. I remember them all the time. I wear their initials on my prosthetic leg,” Ganem says. “What’s so great about this race is that you get a chance to put a uniform on and it fills the void from when your career got snatched from you.”

The Semper Fi Fund has helped service members like Cody Miranda, a retired Marine staff sergeant from Lorton, Va.

“When I was in the hospital, they helped me transition from the military to civilian life and got me my first place to live in,” Miranda says. “They’ve been a family to me for the past five years. Anytime I’ve needed anything, I just ask. Or they just hear about it and they provide.”

Adam Borcz, co-founder of the Ripley Race, says the organization is critical for wounded veterans who fall through the cracks.

“The money helps pay for hotels, flights, mortgages. They cover any financial support that a family with a wounded spouse would need,” says Borcz.

“We don’t duplicate the services that the government provides, we help try to find the gaps,” says Karen Guenther, president of the Semper Fi Fund. “If a wounded or ill service member needs help with an adaptive vehicle, specialized equipment or their family needs help paying bills back home, whatever the need is, we’re ready.”

Lee Randles, also a retired sergeant, was injured while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.

“I am an above-knee amputee and I’ve been an amputee for seven years now,” Randles says. “This race means to me that life doesn’t stop and it’s only as good as you make it.”

The course kicked off from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and guided runners through downtown historic Annapolis, around the Maryland Statehouse and back to the stadium.

The Semper Fi Fund raised $12 million this year and the donations collected from the race brought in more than $65,000. The event drew participants from five states and donations from 31 states.

The John Ripley Memorial Race was founded four years ago in honor of Col. John Ripley, a 1962 Naval Academy graduate.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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