By Joy Crist, Island Free Press
Travelers along N.C. Highway 12 over the next few days may happen to catch a glimpse of a small team of exhausted runners making their way to or from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
These 15 runners are currently participating in the annual Swammie Shuffle 200, which is a grueling race from Sandbridge, Virginia to the Buxton landmark and back, in an effort to raise awareness and funds to help end veteran suicide.
On February 28, 2020, Dustin “Swammie” Lang became one of the 22 American veterans who lose the battle to post-traumatic stress and depression every day. Dustin was a Marine veteran who did three tours in Iraq, earning a Purple Heart and a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
Josh Fosberg, one of the event’s two Race Directors, served with Dustin in the military, and wanted to honor his friend in a significant and close-to-home way.
“Josh lived in Virginia Beach, and he ran out here on the Outer Banks, and decided that this would be a great place to do a run in Dustin’s honor,” says Race Director, James Huller. “So we got together and looked at all the organizations that are doing things for veterans, and Mission 22 spoke to us in terms of service for our [military] members.”
Mission 22 is a national organization that supports active service members, veterans, and their family members through treatment programs, raising awareness of issues facing veterans, and establishing memorials to honor service members.
Now in its second year, the 2022 Swammie Shuffle 200 has already raised more than $5,600 for the organization, through nearly 100 distinct donations.
The logistics of the race are simple, but the ensuing trek is anything but. Starting in Sandbridge, runners have a total of six days and four hours to complete the 200-mile route down the Outer Banks and back, although they can stop and take a break at any point.
“In order to complete the race, they have to run 34 miles per day, on average,” says Huller.
This year’s pack of brave participants started the race on Sunday morning, Feb. 27, and two have already reached the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, marking the halfway point. “The two guys leading the race this year took a one-hour break here and there since Sunday morning, and that’s been it,” says Huller.
In 2021’s inaugural Swammie Shuffle 200, race winner Kelly Fejes completed the course in just 82 hours, and she is competing again this year with her husband at her side. After taking a 2-3 hour nap in Nags Head on Sunday night, Huller expects that the pair will make it to the lighthouse sometime on Monday afternoon as well. “Everyone has a different plan in terms of how they will complete the course,” says Huller.
Because the 15 runners are spaced out throughout the 200-mile route, it’s not always obvious to people passing by that they are participating in a racing event, but Huller says that the local folks they have stopped and talked to have been incredibly supportive.
“We’ve stopped at shops and convenience stores, and talked to a couple of people and told them what we were doing, and they donated [to the fundraiser] in person,” says Huller.
The 15 runners, which include 11 men and 4 women and who are mostly civilians, will continue to make steady progress over the next several days, with the last finishers expected to trickle back to the Virginia finish line by Saturday.
In the meantime, islanders and visitors who are cruising along N.C. Highway 12 are encouraged to show their support for these determined runners who are on a mission to help American veterans, and to remember one veteran in particular who lost his life too soon. Held on the anniversary of Dustin “Swammie” Lang’s death on February 28, the event essentially aims to keep his memory alive for many years to come.
“Though there is nothing we can do to change what happened that day, we can make a difference,” states the event’s description. “By raising awareness and funds for Mission 22, the Swammie Shuffle will begin to redeem that day. We will not forget what happened, but we will not be crippled by it. We will use it as a reminder to reach out, to love each other, and to provide assistance for those who are struggling.”