On Sunday, Christopher Delaney will join thousands of others running a half-marathon. But Delaney will be carrying something extra: almost 60 pounds of battle gear, including boots, a Kevlar helmet and body armor.
Chris, 36, did his second - and last - long practice run in Lindenhurst last Sunday, slogging 10 miles through heavy rain. The plan had been that he would run, out from his garage and down Sunrise Highway and through Lindenhurst, while I biked alongside him.
Last week, when I ran into Chris at a Suffolk County veterans gathering, I warned him about Sunday's weather forecast. He said not to worry - he would not melt. "I ain't sugar," he said. And so, on the appointed morning, Chris got up, donned battle gear and got moving. I woke up, looked out the window, relayed regrets via e-mail, and went back to bed.
"I got to admit," Chris said when I finally made it to his house in Lindenhurst during yesterday's warm, sunny weather. "It was raining so hard on Sunday, I started thinking to myself, 'Are you nuts?' "
Chris, a Coast Guard reservist who returned home from Iraq in January, is far from nuts. Because he's not just going to carry battle gear; he's going to help carry the burden of local families who have lost soldiers to war. He's affixed cards with the names of other slain Long Islanders to his gear.
There's Marine Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, of Sag Harbor, who died in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq two years ago. And Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, 24, of Smithtown, a Coast Guard serviceman, who died in 2004 during an attack in the North Persian Gulf.
And then there's Sgt. Joseph Dwyer of Mount Sinai and Marine Gunnery Sgt. James Gallagher of Lynbrook. Each made it back home from war, only to die by his own hand. Chris is adamant about not appending the word suicide to their deaths.
They died from a disease called post-traumatic syndrome disorder, he said. "It's a disease that's running rampant, taking too many soldiers, and nobody's doing enough to stop it."
Which is why, come Sunday, he will run, for the first time ever, more than 13 miles in full battle gear.
He will be wearing Dwyer's uniform shirt.
"It's not about me," said Chris, one of four local veterans behind Long Island 9-11 Veterans, a not-for-profit that raises and distributes money to local veterans in need. He works for the Suffolk County correction department.
So far this year, the group's given away almost $33,000. Some of it went to pay the cost of home heating oil for local World War II vets. Some went to local Vietnam veterans who needed housing. Some went to local Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who needed help with their rent.
But 9-11 Veterans is about more than money; it's about local veterans supporting local veterans - as only veterans can.
Recently, a man called Chris to say that he'd gone to see the movie "Avatar" and got so hyped up that he thought about hitting his children when they misbehaved. "I told him he'd better stick to chick flicks for now," Chris said.
Which is why Chris will run.
For those who fought and died.
For those who fought and died at home.
For those who fought and are still fighting.
"I'm wearing all of this stuff and running to put the attention where it belongs, on the soldiers," he said. "Attention hopefully brings contributions so that we can keep doing what we're doing."
He acknowledged some soreness from his rainy Sunday run.
"It's nothing," he said, "nothing compared to what a lot of soldiers and their families are going through."