As Ryan Haggerty gets ready to celebrate Monday’s observance of Veterans Day, he’ll be doing it in a way that reminds him of one of the benefits of his time in our armed services.
He’ll be running.
Haggerty will take part in the Veterans Day 5K, which will be held today at the Buffalo Naval Park. It’s quite a story about how he got to the starting line, since at one point in his life a run to beat a traffic light was challenging.
Haggerty played sports during his childhood, eventually graduating from Sweet Home High School.
“I was in an undergraduate program in college when the September 11 attacks occurred,” he said. “That really stuck with me. I came back to Buffalo – that was in 2003 – during the Iraq War and enlisted in the Army.”
There was a catch, though.
“I weighed 261 pounds. Not like Zdeno Chara’s 261 pounds. I am 5-10. I was a disgusting fat body,” he said.
Haggerty knew some sort of level of fitness was needed to serve in the military, so he made an effort to train. His effort was, in his word, “pathetic.”
“My senior drill sergeant always addressed me as ‘Private Fat Ass,’ ” Haggerty said.
One of the requirements was to run a mile and one-half in less than 18 minutes. Failure to pass the physical exam would mean some time with what is called “the Pork Chop Platoon,” where recruits receive constant physical training in an attempt to round them into shape before starting basic training.
Haggerty was “dangerously close” to the 18-minute cut-off point, but made it with several seconds to spare. It probably was the longest continuous run of his life at that point.
From there it was on to basic training for Haggerty, which included plenty of running. The Western New Yorker started his Army tenure in the summer in Kentucky, so he quickly learned about how to cope with hot temperatures. Haggerty started running two to three times a week, a number that eventually increased to four times per week. Sure enough, the pounds came off – almost 80 of them.
“When I was done with that, I vowed I would never be fat again,” Haggerty said.
He kept running toward that end, even when he was deployed in Iraq for a year starting in 2004. As could be expected, it wasn’t easy to run there – even on the military base.
“There’s a phrase you hear in the Army – improvise, adapt and overcome,” Haggerty said. “You have to be creative to find a run. Then there was the oppressive heat. If you are going to do any useful running, it had to be before sunrise and after sunset.
“There were times when we had to go into a protective posture. There’s a number system from one to five – one, where you can walk around, and five, when you have to have on a helmet and body armor to walk out the door. It added to the creativity.”
Haggerty, an assistant district attorney for Erie County, kept running through his departure from the Army in 2011. He’s still doing it now, running the occasional race like the one today.
“There are a couple of reasons for running in races like this,” Haggerty said. “The funds are going to a good cause, and I can show solidarity with those still in active duty, solidarity with those who have fought with me.”
As for his times, the 33-year-old Amherst resident usually finishes 5-kilometers in a little more than 20 minutes. He says he has a powerful image driving him when he runs those races.
“I am still terrified that some day, when I least expect it, that Senior Drill Sergeant will materialize out of the ether and demand from me an explanation of why I am fat and jacked up,” he said with a laugh.
Tom Donnelly has one word of advice for anyone who hasn’t registered for the Turkey Trot yet, but wants to run in the annual Thanksgiving Day event.
As of Saturday morning, the race director reports that 13,000 people have signed up. The cap for participants is 14,000, and Donnelly said the race has averaged about 500 registrants per day. So he expects the event to sell out late tonight or early tomorrow. Go to ymcabuffaloniagara.org to register.
• Veterans Day 5K, Buffalo Naval Park, 11 a.m. today, 868-1055.
• Michelle’s Memorial 5K, 28 Main St. in Middleport, 9 a.m. Saturday, 783-2432.
• Maritime March 5K, 170 Ohio St. in Buffalo, 11 a.m. Saturday, 574-4101.
• Northtown Family Pregnancy Center 5K, Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island, 11 a.m. Saturday, 909-4621.
• GBTC 5K Cross Country Race, Hoyt Lake in Buffalo, 9 a.m. on Nov. 17.