Tributes & Stories


1987 Run at the Academy
The Volkslauf


1987 Run at the Academy

by Dan Nygaard '87

The path is the same as I remember it. I run behind the Chapel, my favorite building, since running in front of it is still against the rules, even for old alumni. I run next to the outer wall which is still not high enough to prevent those who want to escape to do so, although I guess few do anymore with post 9-11 security. I glance at the parade field I still dislike even though its power over me is long gone. Hospital Point is next and looks the same, with the old buildings, cemetery, and vacant field. I cross the river on the wooden foot bridge and feel its familiar bounce, wondering how it could still be standing after all these years. As I passed the library, I wondered if Midshipmen rely on it like they did before the internet. The sailboats moored in their slips bring back pleasant memories since they were an escape from the drudgery that first summer. Bancroft Hall, our four-year home, looks unchanged - although it seemed much quieter now. I wonder if it’s because air conditioning keeps the windows closed and there is less yelling. The seawall was next and is still protected by massive boulders that we used to run on. That doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore but I did it anyway. The cars next to it have changed and not just because it’s thirty-five years later. The sportscars the Firsties drove inspired me to keep going when I doubted all the effort was worth it. Now the cars are more practical and less cool.

I then thought about what I thought about in 1987 when I was counting the days until I could run on a different path. As a 1st class Midshipman, I had more freedom but I wasn’t as free as I wanted to be. Weekdays seemed all the same but following the endless rules seemed more difficult each day. Weekends provided a necessary relief but Sunday night and the walls were always waiting for us. I once hated returning after a break but I had grown accustomed to the place and knew that my days here were numbered. At Graduation, I would throw my cover in the air and never return.

But return I did. Time and distance diluted the animosity I once felt, letting the good memories surface. The comradery with my classmates pulled me back to reunions to connect and remember. The part of the program I didn’t understand and appreciate then is the best part of the place. The program is designed to make you function as a team and to develop bonds that will survive hardships, battles, wars, and time. From day one, you are taught to look out for each other. As your training progressed, forced teamwork became genuine concern for each other and for those you were privileged to lead. That was intentional. The Navy needs leaders who create unit cohesion based on love for each other over love of oneself.

My return trips have become more frequent since my nephew and my son became Midshipmen. Now returning to the Yard combines the emotions I feel as a graduate and as a parent. For my wife and me, our son’s four years by the Bay flew by while he felt just the opposite. Most parents will miss their trips to Annapolis while their Mids count the days to their graduation and escape. I know that the friends they make at the Academy will be a lifetime blessing and that they will grow to appreciate what their parents and graduates already do. Someday they will return, yearning to be with their classmates. They will walk the same paths and realize that USNA is now part of who they are, no matter how much they resisted it at the time. Time and distance will let the good memories surface and dilute whatever animosity they now feel. They will gather and reminisce about their experience with affection. For a brief time, they will be Mids again, singing Navy Blue and Gold with their classmates and shouting with pride at the end, “Go Navy! Beat Army!”  



The Volkslauf

by Sean Coughlin '87

In 1993, as a civilian, I ran the Volkslauf. The Volkslauf is a five-mile mud run held annually by the US Marine Corps in Southern California. In the race I was running as a member of my brother's US Marine Corps Infantry Platoon. Ryan Coughlin, USNA ‘90, is my brother. At the US Naval Academy and afterward I rowed crew, in which I had had a good deal of success. But in 1993 I was in my first year of UCLA's film school, and so was not in the great shape I was used to being in. So instead of pushing to run with the leaders in my brother's platoon, I took it upon myself to be the one encouraging the runner who was bringing up the rear of the platoon.

Different military units from the Marine Corps, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force were entered in the Volkslauf competition as the various teams. My brother's platoon made up one team. His Company Commander was the leader of another team. And the other platoons in the company made up two more teams. Needless to say there was intense competition among the unit's within the company for who among them would come in first. Even knowing the Company Commander's team had a leg up on the others before the race had even started, for he was able to pick the best runners from any of the platoons in the company. Every platoon team hoped to upset the company team, especially since it was loaded with the best runners in the company.

The only rule of the race were that the six members of the six man teams had to cross the finish line together with all six participants wearing the same combat boots they had started in. This was the only rule, but it was strictly enforced.

As the race started my brother's platoon surged ahead of the other platoon teams, but fell behind the company team. My brother was a good runner, as were three of the men who were also on his team. I ultimately fell in beside a Corporal bringing up the rear of my brother's platoon team. I constantly urged him forward by telling him to always give it your best, even if it was obvious you were losing, because you never knew what would happen in any conflict or competition.

Through the course of the race the four fastest runner's of my brother's platoon team were right up there with the company team, and they moved well ahead of the other platoon teams. But nobody thought our team had a chance at winning the company competition because of myself and the Corporal running well behind the others. Still, I kept repeating what had become my mantra, and the Corporal kept struggling forward.

Then, only five hundred yards from the finish line, the Company Commander came running back to ask the Corporal if he had seen or found a combat boot in the mud. Seems he had lost it in one of the many mud ditches on the way, and he would not be able to finish the race until he found it. The Corporal's eyes lit up when he realized he could honestly say he hadn't seen any boot, and this spurred him on to a final effort toward the finish line and to eventual victory as fastest of the company teams.

Now all my words to the Corporal seemed prescient as each member of my brother's team celebrated their achievement. I offer this up as proof that sometimes in life things happen to get you where you never expect to be, especially when the opposing team leaves a boot in the mud.