Men run in grueling race to help homeless vets

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, January 6, 2014

JANESVILLE--Joel Galvan, Derrick Farris, Tony Estrada and Dick King are willing to go the extra mile for homeless vets.

In fact, the Janesville men are planning to trek 64 miles in one of the toughest races in the Midwest to raise money for the local Housing 4 Our Vets program at Rock Valley Community Programs.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, the foursome will begin a 24-hour footrace through the rough terrain of the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Fewer than 10 percent of those who begin the grueling Frozen Otter Ultra Trek finish.

In past years, racers have struggled with snow up to their knees and temperatures dropping to minus 20.

Still, the men are determined.

“We are doing this to honor vets and to create awareness about the housing for veterans program,” Galvan said.

Galvan, Farris and King are Marines, and Estrada's father is a retired Air Force officer. They will be among a maximum of 100 people in the competition.

The men set a goal of raising $4,000.

“We're very proud of them,” said Rick Valdez, community development director of Rock Valley Community Programs, Janesville. “We're happy to see them take this on.”

The Housing 4 Our Vets program began in 2011 and offers housing and support services to veterans, including case management, job training and placement and group and individual counseling.

“The Veterans Administration does not fully fund the program,” Valdez said. “We have to fill in the gaps.”

Galvan and Estrada work with offenders returning to the community in another program of Rock Valley Community Programs. But Galvan started out as a case manager in the homeless veteran's wing.

“As a Marine, it saddens me to see so many of my brothers and sisters completing their tours of duty only to return and lose the fight here at home,” Galvan said. “These soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are returning with wounds that cannot always be seen. They suffer from things such as post traumatic stress, depression and alcohol and drug addictions.”

He worries that some veterans are falling by the wayside.

“It's a combination of things,” Galvan said. “They are not the same people they were when they left, and it is a struggle to fit in again.”

The men have been training by running and hiking with heavy backpacks.

“We try to get out two to three times a week,” 29-year-old Galvan said. “We try to get in eight to 10 miles at a time.”

During the race, they are required to carry certain items, including a first aid kit, an emergency blanket and a way to make shelter, in case they get stuck in the woods.

They will have no time to sit and eat.

“Everything will be on the move,” Galvan said.

He is determined to finish.

“I'm not going to let my buddies down,” he said. “All four of us are in good shape.”

Of his friends who are Marines, Galvan said: “We know what it is like to be tired. We spent countless nights in the desert. We're used to the stress.”

The few who finish become part of an elite group called the “Frozen Few” and receive customized plaques.

When King first heard about the race, he thought it would be both fun and a challenge.

“I know some vets have a harder time than others when they come back,” he said. “I think this is a good chance for me to help them out.”

King served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a full-time student at UW-Rock County and UW-Platteville.

During the race, volunteers are posted at eight-mile intervals and provide a warm fire, hot water and the option to take a shuttle back. Historically, by the third checkpoint, almost 75 percent of the racers drop out.

Said King:

“I'm going to try my best.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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