People run for many reasons. For some it’s to train for races; others want to get in shape; some runners say the trail is like their second home; and others run to relieve stress. For members of Team Red, White, and Blue, regardless of what inspires someone to begin running, all agree that the camaraderie felt along tracks, streets and trails is second to none.
“After five years in this group, I’ve met some great friends and we’re really close. We have a lot in common, and I’ve tried all of these new things that I love to do. I’m loving life,” says United States Air Force Veteran Jeff Napier, who served from 1984-1988.
Napier joined the Cincinnati chapter of Team Red, White, and Blue (known as Team RWB) as a way to meet new people and try new experiences after his kids left the house for college. Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. The group is open to anyone in the community who wants to build friendships and support veterans, including civilians.
Members of Team RWB meet weekly in various places throughout Cincinnati for a physical activity followed by a social outing. The group also participates in service activities, most recently hurricane relief efforts with Matthew 25 Ministries. The best part, according to Napier, is you don’t have to be a runner to join the group. Though running is a regular activity, Team RWB also goes hiking, white water rafting, biking and more.
“The great thing about our group is we have people of all levels and abilities. We have people who just walk and people of all shapes and sizes,” Napier explains. “A lot of people bring their kids so we do stuff with the young kids, too.”
While much of the group consists of veterans, Napier says many members are civilians and their families as well. Dr. Kris Titko of Liberty Township's Center for Foot Care joined Team RWB several years ago after her friend and running coach encouraged her to give the group a try. A civilian herself, Titko was just beginning to run and train for races when she first met Team RWB, and says it’s been one of the best parts of her life.
“What I have found through [Team RWB] is a good group of people from diverse backgrounds. It’s not ‘clique-y,’” Titko says. “Over time I’ve become much more aware of my respect for veterans, which I already had, but now I feel like it’s much deeper.”
One of her favorite parts of being on Team RWB is that the team carries the American flag at races. Go to any race across the country, including locally in Cincinnati, and you’re likely to see a group of people wearing Team RWB shirts surrounding the flag.
“The pride of carrying the flag is really cool,” Titko explains, with a smile. “It’s a team feeling that you get.”
In fact, Titko will be running the flag for an upcoming national run across America known as the Old Glory Relay. She’ll run about 20 miles near New Orleans for the 4,600-mile run from Seattle to Tampa, which raises awareness and funds for Team RWB. Unique experiences like this keep members engaged and excited to wear their red, white and blue pride. Napier says it’s important to cultivate this feeling of pride so veterans feel welcome when they get back from service.
“In a way you’re putting your life on hold for two, three, four years—however long you’re enlisted. Your life is on hold because you’ve been fighting or serving somewhere, but everyone else’s life has moved on. Your friends have gotten married, start their lives, but you get back and kind of ask yourself, ‘What do I do now?’ Things change in four years,” Napier recalls.
For those coming back from service, their friends and family, and anyone who wants to support veterans, there is Team RWB. Napier says anyone is invited to join the group by going online or talking to a Team RWB member at an upcoming race. Though it can be difficult to join a new group, Napier says it’s worth stepping outside your comfort zone to meet the people within Team RWB.
As the team's website says, “It’s about the journey, not the finish line.”