When veterans transition to civilian life, the loss of military community can be challenging to replicate. Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) was founded to help fill the void by connecting veterans and their families to their communities with sports. Participation happens at local chapters and clubs, with dozens throughout the U.S.
The intention is for Team RWB to be grassroots because each place and community is unique with specific needs. However, running is deeply entrenched in military training, making it a popular Team RWB activity no matter the location. So much so, that it’s becoming common for veterans and civilians alike to be seen wearing the group’s distinctive red, white and blue, eagle-logo RWB shirts and jerseys at running events, from local trail races to big city marathons.
Founded in 2010, the group has experienced exponential growth and now has more than 90,000 members in 182 communities around the world. It includes athletic camps, ambassador programs and leadership development programs in addition to sports meet ups.
Champion ultrarunner Liza Howard (women’s winner of the 2015 Leadville 100 trail running race) heard about Team RWB on an Endurance Planet podcast, and thought trail running would be a fitting application for the program.
She contacted program founder Major Mike Irwin, and asked, “How can I help?”
Howard helped create the trail running camp, inviting professional and winning trail runners to help with the program. Elites like Max King, Meghan Arbogast, Sage Canaday, Katie DeSplinter, Dominic Grossman, Jason Schlarb, Sarah Lavender Smith, Nikki Kimball and many more have attended and shared their trail running expertise and enthusiasm. The popular national camp just wrapped its fourth year with 100 participants in Texas.
“We have a 4:1 ratio of participants to mentors, and about half of the participants are veterans and the other half paying civilians who want to attend a stellar trail camp,” Howard says.” “We cover form, hill running, speed drills, race nutrition, first aid, trail etiquette and leave-no-trace ethics. Attendees have time to run with and talk to the best in the sport in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Ultrarunner Matt Hart has been involved since the first trail camp. Introduced to the program through Howard, he wanted to be involved because he saw how PTSD affected his dad after his two tours in Vietnam. “A lot of people are touched by veterans or have veterans in their lives,” Hart says. “Running can be a selfish pursuit, and any chance to give back, especially helping veterans, is a good opportunity.”
Hart, like Howard, says the camp is the type of program he would like to attend, even if he wasn’t a veteran or a volunteer.
“This is such a cool way to build community around trail running,” he says. “It’s a way to help the beginners and trail runners of all abilities learn about the sport.”
With running as a common thread, connections between veterans, civilians and mentors, even those with disparate backgrounds and beliefs, are seamless.
“Not only have we been able to make a difference in people’s lives by teaching them about trail running, we’ve shown them there is a community, a trail running community, and they can be part of it,” Howard says. “Civilians get to see that veterans are just like the rest of us. We are all so insulated in our communities and trail running can help break down those barriers—both emotional and physical.”
Participants range in ability from the fit and fast to those who only run when it’s required. Most though, according to Hart, are like “kids in a candy store and just stoked to run.” Those who may have started out thinking of running as a chore, come to enjoy it and the community by the end of camp. In addition to classes and group runs, veterans are given the opportunity to share their personal stories.
“The biggest thing to me was the fact that over a short four-day period, not only did I get some friends, I got a whole new family,” says Brandon Kuehn, a veteran who attended the 2015 camp. “These are men and women I know I can call on if I am in need.”
The community aspect is growing with camp participants and other Team RWB members reaching out to each other to do races and carpool to events.
“I was expecting just to run and learn some basic technique, but I learned so much more,” Kuehn says. “You don’t have to be an elite to race. Your race is your race.”
Program organizers are considering offering regional camps in the future to help runners connect with their local communities at a lesser cost.
To learn more about Team RWB’s trail running camp, visit their website.