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Ann BertucciAN ANGEL ON HER SHOULDER: MCM RUNNER HONORS MEMORY OF LOST FRIEND
In 2009, Ann Bertucci of Alexandria, VA stood in the finish area of the 34th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) handing out water and snacks to marathon runners in Charity Village. While assisting runners after their 26.2-mile trek she was struck by the stories of strength and courage told by those whom she met, and the impact of this experience stuck with her far beyond race day.
As a volunteer with MCM charity partner Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Bertucci had a firsthand look at what motivates runners to complete marathons. TAPS, founded in 1984, provides a variety of programs and services to those grieving the loss of a loved one in military service. Her volunteer work with this charity brought her close to those running to remember and honor a lost service member. Originally from Chicago, IL, Bertucci had moved to the Washington, D.C. area and volunteered at various events as a way to meet people in her new community; little did she know that this volunteer experience would be the catalyst for her eventual participation in the MCM.
Like TAPS members, Bertucci, too, had lost a loved one in the military, but at the time that’s where the comparisons ended between the charity runners and her. Although running had been her exercise of choice for nearly two decades and she had already completed 15 marathons, Bertucci had no desire to once again complete a rigorous training regime to get in shape for 26.2 miles. She left the MCM glad to have provided aid for TAPS runners, but held no desire to join their ranks again as a marathon participant.
“I was content running a few miles several times a week at a casual pace with a simple goal of trying to keep fit,” Bertucci says. “Yet something was gnawing at me. I found myself often thinking back to that day spent with TAPS at the marathon. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to run that race.”
Inevitably, the experience at the 2009 MCM brought memories of dear high school friend Delmar Shelley to the forefront of Bertucci’s thoughts. She and Shelley attended Amundsen High School in Chicago, IL together. After graduation, Shelley was entered in the military draft lottery when he turned 18. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted and chose to join the Marine Corps because of their reputation for superior training. As expected, after completion of boot camp, he received his orders for Vietnam.
When Shelley deployed in August of 1968, Bertucci made a promise to write him every week until he returned home, attempting to allay her friend’s fears about the uncertainties of a tour in Vietnam. Bertucci became Shelley’s strongest supporter and often encouraged other friends to remain in contact with him as well. As the months passed, she sensed that Shelley was finally adjusting to his deployment, and the pair looked forward to his upcoming scheduled leave.
Unfortunately, Bertucci would never see Shelley again. A Western Union telegram arrived at her home informing her that on Nov. 14, 1968, Shelley was killed in action in Viet Nam. Since that time, Bertucci has held on to the memory of her lost high school friend, and she describes feeling his presence while on a simple run one sunny spring morning after her volunteer experience at the 2009 MCM. She feels that Shelley gave her an invisible nudge that day, and she understood why she had to run the MCM.
“I’ve thought of Delmar often… and I’ve visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on many occasions to honor his memory,” she says. “But on my run that sunny day, I knew it was Delmar tapping on my shoulder urging me to do something more- something I didn’t really want to do. I knew I had to run the Marine Corps Marathon in his honor.”
Bertucci registered for the 2011 MCM and began preparing for her marathon mileage. With a training cycle fraught with complications- a demanding work schedule, a family death, an earthquake, hurricane, and the hottest July on record for the area- Bertucci credits Shelley’s spirit for helping her through.
“Delmar was absolutely an inspiration,” she says. “I often felt his presence encouraging me to keep going when things got tough- which they often did.”
On October 30, 2011 Bertucci lined up with fellow marathon participants behind the MCM starting arches on Route 110 in Arlington, VA. She found herself back amongst the ranks of runners she had served two years before, and sensed that everyone, including her, was there for a reason. That day she followed through on her commitment to honor Shelley’s memory, finishing the 36th MCM with a time of 5:32. She credits a little extra on-course assistance with helping her finish that day.
“I ran with an angel on my shoulder,” says Bertucci.