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Bloomsday Away gives troops in Kyrgyzstan a taste of home

Mon., May 8, 2006, midnight

Jeremiah Camp never thought he would win Bloomsday, especially while stationed at an Air Force base in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, where the course is flat with not a pine tree in sight.

But his time of 49 minutes, 8 seconds clinched the title in the Bloomsday Away race, which gave about 60 military people stationed in the Central Asian country a chance to run – and, just as importantly, get an official Bloomsday T-shirt.

The 12K race, which mimics the real Bloomsday, circled the perimeter of Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Because of the 13-hour time difference, Camp crossed the finish line just as Spokane Bloomies were headed for bed Saturday night.

This was the first Bloomsday race for Camp, an Oregonian who has been based at Fairchild Air Force Base since 2004. But the first lieutenant knows it was a very different experience because there was no Doomsday Hill and the course was part of a refueling hub for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

“Jets were taking off during the run,” said Camp, 27.

This is the third time Bloomsday has sanctioned such a large military race overseas.

“These are people who typically would be here except they have been stationed abroad,” said Don Kardong, Bloomsday founder and executive director. “Our hope is we can give them a little bit of home.”

In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, “Desert Bloom” races were held at eight military outposts. About 20 Fairchild members assigned to Diego Garcia, a small island off the tip India, ran in 2003.

For Tech. Sgt. Abigail Weichman of the Air National Guard at Fairchild, the Kyrgyzstan race brought happy memories of home and her childhood running Bloomsday. And it means she gets her own T-shirt so she doesn’t have to steal one from husband, Chris, who ran the Spokane race.

“I was so excited to call my parents and my husband and tell them,” Weichman said.

Her husband was spotted on the Spokane course Sunday wearing a T-shirt that read “My wife ran Bloomsday Away – 58:32 in Kyrgyzstan.”

Abigail Weichman also noted the flat Kyrgyzstan terrain, which was admittedly a treat. But she said the weather was cool and overcast.

“Typical Bloomsday weather,” said the 1996 Gonzaga Prep graduate who plans to run the Coeur d’Alene half-marathon at month’s end.

Kyrgyzstan is on the western border of China and is a little smaller than South Dakota. Manas Air Force Base is in a flat, grassy area ,and Weichman said red poppies are in bloom all around the base. On clear days, the Tien Shan mountains, which reach more than 20,000 feet, create a breathtaking backdrop.

Master Sgt. Dan Wilcox of Fairchild organized the Bloomsday Away run partly because he never has been in Spokane for the actual race. And he knew many Fairchild people felt homesick for one of the city’s best-known events.

He attributes the race’s success to the support of his superiors and Kardong.

“It’s hard to get that many people off at one time,” Wilcox said, adding that a lot of participants had to juggle their schedules. Some pilots ran the race and had to be ready to fly about 45 minutes later.

Participants also included U.S. Army members and Marines in addition to some Spanish airmen and a Russian translator. Wilcox said many of the non-Fairchild runners didn’t understand Bloomsday’s significance until they clicked on the race Web site.

For Wilcox, organizing the run wasn’t as difficult as running the actual race.

“I joke that I won my age group because there’s no one else out there as old as me,” said Wilcox, 45.


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