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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

By SANDRA RHODES

When Mark Doolittle attends his 30th high school class reunion Saturday night, the 1982 Bradford Area High School graduate, along with two classmates, will have a little something special to brag about - like taking part in a sprint triathlon that morning.

Doolittle, joined by Chris Wilson Minich and her twin brother Chuck Wilson, are participating as a team and the seventh annual Willow Creek Triathlon on Saturday. Proceeds from the triathlon benefit the transportation fund for the Disabled American Veterans of McKean and Warren counties.

For Doolittle, who is traveling from Indianapolis, Ind., for Saturday's events, the triathlon takes on special meeting. Doolittle himself is 60 percent disabled. A veteran of both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, Doolittle was injured as a result of an accident involving "friendly fire" when a fellow soldier fell asleep at the wheel and ran him over. This left him a three rods inside his right ankle plus a plate and 14 screws on the outside of his ankle.

While he knew he could not do all three portions of the triathlon, he knew he could get by with a little help from his friends.

"Since he was planning on coming home for our reunion, he wanted to do the triathlon," Minich said. "He needed my help to get a team together."

Lyle Hajdu, a regular participant, encouraged Minich to do the bike portion since Doolittle was running.

"Since time was short on registering a team, I contacted my twin brother," Minich said. "He was all it ... Interesting enough, my brother is also a disabled veteran after serving five years in the Air Force" during peacetime.

Minich did not hesitate to become part of Doolittle's team.

"Mark, Chuck and I all were strong participants in our high school track program. Mark and I were remembered as runners from our class," she said "When I heard Mark’s story and recalled my fond memories of training with him, I simply couldn’t resist to be a part of his team."

To have it the weekend of the reunion was icing on the cake.

"I knew right away, we needed to keep this team to the BAHS Class of 1982. Mark, Chuck and many of our classmates joined the armed forces in 1982.

"It gives me great pride to be able to advocate the great service, commitment and leadership they gave and continue give to our country."

Doolittle has not allowed his injury keep him down.

"I am a determined person," he said of when the doctors told him he would probably not walk let alone run. "I can't stand it when someone tells me no."

Doolittle has done a marathon, half marathon as well as races. He now isto slowed down due to degenerative arthritis.

"I have always set goals high and rejoice in every little step I make toward them on."

On Saturday Doolittle's goal will be to complete the three-mile run from the Corydon Hotel to the Willows Restaurant. Wilson will do the 300-yard swim in Quaker Lake in Allegany State Park in New York, and Minich will do the 15-mile bicycling from Allegheny State Park to the Corydon Hotel.

"I was asked if I wanted to swim and I said no," Doolittle said" If you're running and tired, you slow down. Same with bicycling. If you swim and are tired you drown."

Doolittle works in construction - mostly the management - and is still active in the Indiana National Guard but is not deployable.

Doolittle said it's important to hold events like this and raise awareness for veterans' causes and alert veterans to what agencies are out there to help them.

"I hope we learned a lesson from Vietnam." he said of how veterans were treated. "America dropped the ball. That can't happen again.

Race director Shane Oschman concurred that the plight of the American veteran should not be forgotten.

"These men and women thought valiantly so we can have the many freedoms we enjoy today.

"This is just one way we can repay them for all that they have done for us."

To date, the triathlon has raised more than $57,000 for veterans.

For those interested in participating, time is of the essence. Out of 400 open slots 330 are taken. This is the first year the committee capped the number of participants to ensure the safety for all.

Registration starts at 7 a.m. followed by a rules meeting at 9 a.m. The race itself starts at 9:30 a.m.

The awards ceremony will be held at the Willows Restaurant at the end of the race. The top male and female winners will receive the Thom Maholic Award given a memory of the Bradford native who was killed in Afghanistan.

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