12 races, 12 months, 1,200 miles | Marine veteran proves docs wrong, comes back from injuries

PT 365 Military Times | January 8, 2015 | By Sara Davidson | Link to Article
Retired Maj. Felicia Wilkerson isn’t done.

In January 2010, the former Marine Corps helicopter pilot suffered massive blood loss after an emergency C-section surgery. Many surgeries later, she now has severe nerve, muscle and tissue damage to her abdomen, undissolved abdominal mesh and other problems.

Her injuries ultimately ended her military career, and she permanently retired in December.

But she isn’t done.

Wilkerson, 43, is running 12 races in 12 months totaling 1,200 miles with a goal of raising $12,000 for the Semper Fi Fund and MARSOC Foundation support organizations.

All within five years of nearly losing her life.

The 12for12for1200 is a personal challenge for Wilkerson, but also a way for the former member of the Marine Corps’ marathon team to battle back and regain part of her previous life.

“I will say when I need to stop. I will say when I’m done. I don’t have any limitations unless I decide I have limitations.”

After her initial recovery, doctors would not allow her to run farther than three miles, the distance of the Marine Corps PT test run.

“ ‘You’re not going to be a runner anymore,’ ” she recalls the doctors telling her. “ ‘You can run to pass this test, but you won’t be a runner anymore. You need to accept that.’ ”

But she didn’t.

In November 2013, Wilkerson ran the Croatan 24-Hour ultramarathon in Swansboro, North Carolina.

She ran 41 miles. From there she kept going.

Wilkerson started the 12for12for1200 challenge in early May with another 24-hour race — the Athletic Equation 24-Hour Adventure Trail Run near Quantico, Virginia. The challenge would later take her around the country, hitting places such as Boston; Annapolis, Maryland; Teton Valley, Idaho; San Francisco and overseas. She finishes this April, with race distances ranging from half-marathons up to a 150-mile endurance race across the Moroccan Sahara.

She structured her race calendar by picking races near people who had influenced her or events that had personal significance.

“Each race had a meaning,” she said. “And each race had a reason for me to go. And in the interim I’d be raising money and spreading the word.”

She says the hardest aspect of the challenge hasn’t been the physical toll of the miles, travel and time away from her children.

The hardest part, she says, is bridging the gap between the military and civilian world. Wilkerson says her goal is to help people understand what it takes for service members to overcome life-changing injuries.

“These people are going to come back into your community, and they’re going to need your help.”

She said she chose to support the Semper Fi Fund and the MARSOC Foundation because of the work they do to support wounded service members and their families or those of fallen service members.

“[They] step in and say, ‘You don’t have to take that next step by yourself. We’ll be here.’ ”

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To date, she has raised $5,781 for both organizations.

“It’s important — not just because you’re giving money — but because this is somebody’s life,” she said. “You’re allowing them to take that change and adapt to it. And not just adapt, but thrive and move forward.”

On Jan. 24, Wilkerson plans to run the San Antonio Road Runners’ Endurathon 25K. This event has special meaning for her because fellow injured Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Forney will complete part of the race with her.

Forney — a fellow helicopter pilot — was badly burned in a crash in 2013 while deployed in Asia and is still recovering at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Wilkerson will finish out her challenge with the ICY 8-Hour Adventure Trail Run on Feb. 7 in Virginia, the Wrightsville Beach Half-Marathon in March in North Carolina and the Marathon des Sables in Morocco in April.

“I will run,” she said, “until I decide I am ready to stop.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.12for12for1200.blogspot.com.