Tributes & Stories


The Volkslauf

by Sean Coughlin, USNA '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.