Ten stones of varying shapes and sizes, each bearing the name and rank of an American Soldier, laid out on a red velvet blanket. A simple but meaningful display on the corner of the stage. In a noisy and bright gymnasium, with over a hundred people preparing for a 4 mile road race, this corner of the stage with the stones was quiet and peaceful. We let people reflect for a few moments when they approached the display, but The Summit Project is not about silence. The Summit Project is about remembering, sharing and living our best lives in honor of those we’ve lost.
The 2nd Annual Veteran’s Remembrance 4 Mile Road Race at the YMCA in Ellsworth, Maine was on for an 8:30am start, and well over 100 runners and walkers were gathered in the gym with the spectators awaiting the singing of the National Anthem and the kick off of the event. Ten runners had stepped forward months before and requested the opportunity to carry one of the 10 Summit Project stones that we had been granted custody of for the weekend. Our heroes were already well known to our 10 runners, and they spoke freely and lovingly about their Soldier’s lives and service.
When the race began we had ten stones on the course of varying sizes and weights. The runners were rested and ready, and everyone left the starting line with the enthusiasm expected from experienced runners. On that 40 degree morning, as the cold head wind off the river blew in our faces for two long miles our runners began to slow their paces only slightly by the turn around. At the half way mark we climbed a large hill into a sheltered housing development and rounded a col de sac before heading back into the open air and wind. This is where most of our runners encountered each other on the course. The ones who were already heading back passed the ones heading into the half way point. I know the feeling of solidarity in these moments helped push us all through the last two miles. At the finish line the runners raised their stones in celebration of completing the course, and then headed into the gym to lay their burdens down. There was no mistaking that each runner felt in their hearts the significance of the weight they’d carried.
The excitement was overwhelming in the gym between the runners celebrating the race and the spectators cheering their accomplishments. It was exactly the response we’d hoped for. We wanted The Summit Project to gain followers, and we wanted the heroes we celebrated to be known to our friends and neighbors. Our goal was to ensure that Maine’s heroes are not forgotten, and that morning we were successful. But, the true spirit of the weekend occurred in the afternoon during the second event that day.
Several hours later the runners from our morning event, joined by a few new supporters, gathered at the base of Blue Hill Mountain in Blue Hill, Maine. Each stone was carefully unwrapped and presented to the carrier, and like a meeting of old friends, it was a clear reunion for the two with each presentation. The cold wind from the morning had quieted and the sun was in full effect high in the sky. We climbed the mile up the mountain, carefully maneuvering over the wet leaves that covered the rocks, and encouraging each other to be cautious. We talked about our heroes on the way to the summit and then we gathered together under the clear blue sky with our stones in our arms. We shared our thoughts and took some pictures, and then we stood in reflection for a few moments of silence. This was the moment that I will never forget, and the reason I participate in The Summit Project. When the emotion from a group of people standing in silence is so overwhelming you can feel it. There is no doubt, in Down east Maine, our Maine Heroes Are Not Forgotten. Thank you for entrusting me with the stones of ten brave men who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We will never forget.