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The Inside Lane: Veteran Inspiration

Running happens to be a great diversion from being in a war-zone, as long as you don’t get blown up by incoming fire.

In the spirit of Veterans’ Day, I’m going to share the story of my friend and former training partner, Justin Lutz, in a piece I wrote for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette on August 7, 2005.

When this article was first published eight years ago, Justin was a reserve officer in the Marines and an emerging national class athlete in the steeplechase. An unheralded college runner at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., his post-collegiate career had just started to take off in 2003 before he was deployed to Kuwait for six months. Nine months after returning home from his initial sendoff, he was deployed again, this time to Iraq, where he spent the better part of a year serving our country in the middle of a war-zone while continuing to chase his dream of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

After returning from his tour of duty in Iraq, Justin, who works full-time for Raytheon, gradually improved his personal best in the steeplechase to 8:46, a time that qualified him for the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in 2010. He’s represented the United States internationally as a member of Armed Forces teams on numerous occasions and was the top American finisher at the 2012 JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship in Chicago.

Recently married, Justin continues to serve our country — now as a reserve officer in the Navy — and still competes as a member of the Navy running teams. His story inspired me eight years ago, and still inspires me today, especially when I want to make an excuse for not getting out the door to train.

Thank you, Justin, along with all the members of the United States Armed Forces, for your selfless service to our country.

Despite Sun, Sand And War, Lutz Perseveres

By Mario Fraioli
Telegram & Gazette – August 7, 2005

If an athlete really wants something, he will persevere. Justin Lutz is living proof.

Lutz, 25, recently finished a stellar outdoor track season as a member of the Reebok Boston racing club, setting personal bests of 3:49 in the 1,500 meters (equivalent to a 4:06 mile) and 8:16 in the 3,000 meters – both national class performances. He finished fifth in the 1,500 at the USATF National Club Track & Field Championships in New York in July and also won the 22nd Annual Boston J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge this past June, a prestigious race featuring a field of more than 12,000 runners.

And that’s not even the remarkable part.

While most distance runners competing on the national level flee to such running meccas as Boulder, Colo., or Eugene, Ore., to gain an edge on their competition, Lutz, a Corporal in the Marine Reserves, took the road less traveled – all the way to Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

While certainly not excited by the prospect of heading back to war (it was his second deployment in nine months after a six-month stint in Kuwait in 2003), Lutz didn’t let it deter him one bit.

“The second time I was activated was July of 2004. When I received that news, I was devastated,” Lutz said. “I had only been home for nine months, and I was already going back. But you have to stay motivated. A lot of people feel sorry for themselves and give up when the going gets tough. I could have easily packed it in and stopped running when I went to Iraq. It would have been a valid excuse. But I just used the experiences to make me a stronger and tougher runner. The key is to turn adverse situations into a motivator.”

Keeping in contact with his coach, Kevin Curtin, Lutz received his workouts weekly via e-mail and logged upward of 15 miles a day – all on the same 1-1/2 mile stretch of road within his company’s base, all under scorching sun, in the face of flying sand and with a pistol packed inside his Camelbak.

“I knew that I wanted to continue running and racing after I got home from my deployments, so I made a conscious effort to stay in shape,” Lutz said. “Plus, running happens to be a great diversion from being in a war-zone, as long as you don’t get blown up by incoming fire. It was really awful training in Iraq. Not only is the weather miserable, but it’s also a dangerous place.”

Since returning home just before the Boston Marathon in April, where he was honored as a special guest at the finish line by the Boston Athletic Association, Lutz has continued to balance his day job as a software engineer for the Raytheon Company in Sudbury with his demanding training regime.

“I usually run twice a day,” the 6-foot, 175-pound Lutz said. “On the weekend, I work in a long run and I lift weights several times per week. Training twice a day on top of a full-time job makes for a long day. It doesn’t leave room for too much else.”

So where does Lutz go from here? That’s a question that’s easily answered.

“I just want to run as fast as I possibly can,” Lutz said. “I don’t really have any specific number goals. I just want to feel that when I look back 10, 20, 30 years from now, I knew that I gave it my all and can smile when I think about all the experiences I had and the friends I made along the way. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, you know?”