An RCMP constable from Port Alberni has embarked with seven other runners on the Wounded Warriors run from Port Hardy to Victoria this week. For Const. Maria Marciano, the run is personal.
One year ago, fellow officer Const. Doug Rentz died suddenly at home, while off duty. His death was a shock to all who worked with and knew him. Marciano worked the same watch as Rentz, often attending calls with him.
“It was a shock to me,” she said. “Just working through it, it was the first time I’ve had to encounter something like that. It was tough. We’re coming up to a year (on Feb. 23); every day I come into work and it’s still a work in progress, processing it.”
The Wounded Warriors Project recognizes the fact that people in the military or those who work in a uniformed service profession such as paramedics, police officers and firefighters face an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
According to the Wounded Warrior website, the proportion of first responders who will develop PTSD range between 10 and 35 percent. The run was designed to bring awareness to these statistics and to raise money to fund various programs, such as service dogs.
“Mental health has always been a priority for me. It is probably one of the biggest reasons I’m doing (the run),” Marciano said. She only learned about the Wounded Warriors Project last year.
“Last year when they were coming through town I was stuck behind them and I had no idea what the run was. Given the timing of everything with Doug, to me it seemed like a sign.”
Being a runner herself, Marciano was curious what the qualifications were to join the run. Two weeks after the run came to Port Alberni she contacted run coordinator Jacqueline Zweng; “I said I want to be on the run next year.
Marciano made it through the interview process. While she insists she is not an elite runner, she has started running marathon distances. She will run in the Chicago Marathon in October and she also qualified for the Boston Marathon.
The Wounded Warriors run is happening in Marciano’s off-season, when she runs with less intensity, so she added some hill work and speed work to her routine. She will be expected to run at least 10 kilometres a day, and may cover between 80-160 kilometres over the eight-day relay run.
The team met each other on Feb. 9 with a 60-kilometre run between Sooke and Sidney outside of Victoria. “It was kind of a way to kickstart the run itself,” Marciano said. “It was a trial run to see how it was going to go.”
Their lead runner has created the schedule and broken up the individual legs. Marciano said she was scheduled to run her first leg on Sunday. The leg between Comox and Port Alberni is 130 kilometres and the longest of the run.
While training for the run, Marciano has also been learning more about the Wounded Warriors Project. “Learning about them and the organization, and the amazing things they’re doing not only for military personnel but first responders and the programs they offer—it’s amazing.”
Rentz’s mother Sharon also sees the importance of the Wounded Warriors Project. The first time the run came through Port Alberni was days after her son’s death, and she learned afterward that the runners held a moment of silence before the fundraising dinner at the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 293 hall.
Two team members stayed behind when they learned the community had lost and RCMP officer suddenly and they attended Rentz’s service at the Alberni Athletic Hall.
“They stayed over until (the service),” she said. “That I appreciated. They went to the service.”
With Marciano’s participation this year, Sharon is even more supportive. “The run is important,” she said. “It was important to her because she was on his watch.”
Marciano said Rentz’s sudden death affected everyone in Port Alberni’s detachment, and his absence is still felt.
“It (was) something that affected the whole detachment,” Marciano said. “There are a lot of calls that will come up that will remind me of Doug…and the stuff we dealt with on the job,” Marciano said.
The run came to Port Alberni for the first time last year, and will return to Port Alberni on Thursday, Feb. 27. Marciano will run the leg into Port Alberni, starting near the bottom of the Hump and running to the Best Western Barclay Hotel via the Redford Extension.
There will be a spaghetti dinner later that evening at the Legion on Victoria Quay, from 5–8 p.m. Minors are welcome; cost is $10 per plate. Entertainment will be provided by the West Coast Highlanders Pipes and Drums.
The dinner is the culmination of a number of fundraising endeavours for the run this year, including a dodgeball tournament, beer and burger night, yoga class by donation and car wash hosted by all the fire departments in Port Alberni on Saturday in front of Canadian Tire.
Marciano didn’t have to raise funds individually, but said the team set a goal of raising $250,000 on Vancouver Island.
Marciano left Saturday for the run, which started Sunday in Port Hardy. She admitted on Friday that she was more nervous than usual before a run.
“Normally before a race I get a butterflies feeling the day before. It’s been all week. I don’t think it’s the kilometres,” she said.
“It’s more so my part in the whole thing and making sure I’m able to hit my target speeds. I feel I’m OK hitting the distance.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the Wounded Warriors BC run may do so online at woundedwarriors.ca/donate
— With files from Mike Chouinard, Comox Valley Record