Happy Hooligan to run Fargo Marathon...from Iraq

  • Published
  • By Capt. Penny Ripperger
  • 119th Wing Public Affairs
It started as a promise to a dear friend and pledge to his parents that resulted in something even more spectacular. A Happy Hooligan, currently serving in Iraq found that as he tried to dedicate his efforts to the flood victims in the Red River Valley, the graciousness of the local community and his military family has given him even greater rewards.

Stating that Tech. Sgt. Sam A. Ruiz, a Fargo native and member of the 119th Wing Security Forces Squadron in the North Dakota Air National Guard, likes to run is an understatement. The avid athlete has taken his love for running to a completely new level since he deployed to Iraq approximately three months ago.

"I was running before, but since I arrived in Iraq I have been training like a mad man for this. I have run 330 miles so far," said Ruiz. "When I'm not working, I'm running or thinking about running and training for future races here."

His hard work is beginning to show. Since arriving in Iraq, Ruiz has run in six 5K races with five top 10 finishes and one top 5 finish.

"I would like to win at least one race while I'm here, but that's just to keep me motivated. My ultimate goal is to run the full Fargo Marathon and dedicate the run to the 2009 flood victims, volunteers and National Guard members who helped with the relief efforts," said Ruiz.

"I was there and helped during the 1997 Floods. It was really hard for me to not be home to help the Air Guard with the flood this year. Dedicating this run to our community for their continued strength and perseverance is the least I can do."

Ruiz ran the half-marathon the previous two years in the Fargo Marathon. This year he planned to run his first full marathon, but when he found out he was deploying to Iraq he had to make some minor adjustments.

Ruiz contacted the Executive Director of the Fargo Marathon, Mark Knutson and made arrangements to participate in the race from Iraq.

"Mr. Knutson made it possible for me to run in this race and I am truly grateful to him for that. It is inspiring to see how generous members in our community are and how they bend over backwards to help you out," said Ruiz.

Race Day

On May 9th when the marathon runners line up in front of the Fargo Dome at 7:55 a.m., Ruiz will be lining up for the same marathon at 4:30 a.m. in a combat zone where the weather and environment will be much different from Fargo. With temperatures in Iraq expected to reach mid-eighties that day, Ruiz will have volunteers on hand as a precaution.

"It has surprised me to see how many Airmen here in Iraq offered to help me in some way when they heard my story," said Ruiz.

There will be two individuals running the full marathon with Ruiz on Saturday. Staff Sgt. Sonny Hernandez, from the 445th SFS based out of Ohio and a contractor named Kavuma Richard from Uganda, Africa.

"These guys are amazingly good people. They offered to run with me when they heard about the floods in North Dakota and wanted to help me make it to the finish line. The interesting thing is that this will be a first full marathon for all of us," said Ruiz.

The runners will be running the race on their own, with the help of volunteers to support them, primarily Fargo-based Happy Hooligans who are also deployed with Ruiz in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Audrey L. Farder, 119th SFS and native of Alvardo, Minn. will follow the runners in a vehicle during part of the race and distribute water with other volunteers from the 119th Wing throughout the run. Tech.Sgt. Todd P. Seguin, 119th SFS and native of Fargo will run the last six miles with Ruiz to motivate him to the finish line.

Ruiz may not have the music and hoards of spectators cheering him on like the runners in Fargo this year, but he will definitely have the motivational support from his Happy Hooligan family and other Airmen serving with him in Iraq.

But that is not his strongest motivation, in addition to running on behalf of the 2009 flood victims in the Red River Valley, he will also run the marathon because he is determined to make due on a promise he made to some important people back home.

"I made a promise to a dear friend and Happy Hooligan member that I would run this race with her. Unfortunately, she won't be able to run that day due to flood duty severely cutting her training for the marathon, but she is still holding me to my promise and I'm not going to let her down," said Ruiz.

Ruiz also pledged to his parents, Pedro and Francisca Ruiz of Halstead, Minn. that he would complete the run. He has strict orders to call mom and dad to let them know he made it as soon as it's over.

"Preparing for this has been an amazing experience. It began as something that I wanted to dedicate to our community and Guard members to hopefully inspire others, but at the end of the day I was the one who was inspired by everyone's generosity and support. I think it will be a special day for me. I can't think of a better way to run my first marathon," said Ruiz.

For more information about this news release, please contact Penny Ripperger, 119th Wing Public Affairs Officer, at 701-451-2194.