SUP & Run 5K Attendance Record for Veterans Charity

SARASOTA — A record 1,000 athletes — including nine seriously injured veterans — took to the sidewalk along Cattlemen Road at Nathan Benderson Park on Saturday.

Many looked hungry as they stretched their legs, calves, arms and hands, waiting for the fifth annual SUP & Run 5K event to begin.

There were choices: a 5k run, a 5k stand-up paddle or a combination – all a grueling challenge for any athlete whose $35 admission fee benefited the local Operation Second Chance chapter, a national non-profit organization that supports injured and ill veterans.

At the front was Mike Nicholson, 29, a medically retired Marine Corps sergeant from Tampa, with other wounded warriors.

Nicholson doesn’t like to brag, said Katie Nicholson, 33, his wife of three years. But her husband has something to brag about. Gold medals in athletics, running and swimming. He set records at the Warrior Games, held annually since 2010, in the 800-meter wheelchair swimming and 50-meter freestyle events.

Determined, stubborn, sweet, compassionate and modest, that’s how she described the man she met in 2013 – the shy guy who didn’t say hello until after the party. a friend.

Sawyer, 2, is like his father. They both want to save the world one day, Katie said.

Katie’s daughter Callie, 14, calls her dad.

“He doesn’t like me calling him a hero,” Katie said. “He insists he just stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Wounded in a bomb blast along an Afghan road on July 16, 2011, Nicholson lost his right leg at the hip, his left leg through the knee, and his left arm below the elbow. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Operation Second Chance attempts to ease the transition home – providing myriad overnight stays and quick getaways for veterans and their families in more than a dozen states.

For Nicholson, the return to hunting, nature, fishing, kayaking and the Gulf of Mexico helped him pick up the pieces. Gardening also helped.

The Nicholsons remain active. Most mornings they step out onto Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa with its long sidewalk that winds along the Tampa Bay waterfront. He in his tracked wheelchair, she running alongside Sawyer or one of the four dogs in tow.

But there’s another activity that Nicholson hasn’t returned to since his injury: sliding on a paddleboard.

“My life is often split between things before and things after the explosion,” Nicholson said. “Now I just do things I didn’t do.”

After running the 5K by hand, Nicholson ditched the chair and dragged himself along the sandy shore to his board.

In the water, a crowd of volunteers were ready to hoist Nicholson into a specially designed paddle board that allowed him to sit.

Kevin Kenney, a retired Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Major, Army veteran and local coordinator for Operation Second Chance, watched from the shore.

“These veterans are a special kind of awesome,” Kenney said. “All are seriously injured. This means that they are missing several limbs or are paralyzed. This event is an example of how we try to highlight their abilities, not their disabilities. If you spend enough time here, you’ll find a million little stories like Mike’s.

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