By Army National Guard Maj. Matthew Devivo
North Carolina National Guard
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (4/18/12) – As the hot sun began to rise above the horizon here on the first day of April here, a 10-mile road race was about to begin. At that same moment, on the other side of base, a lone runner pushed herself harder and faster around this desert outpost to finish her 24-hour quest – 100 miles in remembrance of fellow North Carolinians who have died during the war on terror.
That lone runner was Army Sgt. 1st Class Rita Rice, a Soldier stationed here with the North Carolina Army National Guard’s 113th Sustainment Brigade.
During those 100 miles, Rice carried her own water; traffic was not stopped for her; no t-shirts or medals were handed out; and the only cheers and recognition along the way were a few high fives and pats on the back from other Soldiers who took turns running with her.
A former member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Rice joined the North Carolina Army National Guard in 2009, and every runner that ran a lap or two with Rice said they felt honored to share the road with her.
“It’s awesome,” said Army Sgt 1st Class Lee Klimala. “Her superhuman ability and can-do attitude is contagious.”
Rice is an ultra runner and trains for and participates in endurance races more than 26.2 miles long – the length of a marathon. Most or her races these days are between 50 and 100 miles long, but it took many years for her to become the runner she is today.
In 2006 she began to slowly pound the pavement and shady wooded trails of North Carolina to keep up with her twin daughters, who had started running track at school. “It was a good excuse for me to get back in shape and to be with my girls and bond,” Rice said. “It was hard at first, but well worth it.
“I had not run seriously for almost fourteen years since my days in the 82nd, but my family and friends kept me motivated.”
Over the following months, Rice was able to complete a two-mile run, then four miles, and a 10-miler. Before long, in 2007, she was able to complete her first marathon.
Rice said the major change in her attitude towards running and her desire not to quit came when a close neighborhood friend, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Dyer, was killed in Afghanistan in late 2006.
After the news of her friend’s death, Rice wanted to honor his service, and decided that running was a healthy and challenging way to do it. Rice said she was lucky to have a running mentor, Army Lt. Col. Mike McNeill. A special forces officer, McNeill motivated Rice and helped her get past the mental challenges of running long distances.
He also taught her how to enjoy the experience of running.
Rice, now a veteran runner, has completed five marathons, multiple endurance races, and other fun runs that challenge a person mentally and physically.
Rice said her personal mottos are, “Live life to its fullest; set challenging goals for yourself and maybe it will inspire others to also ‘go for it;’ dream big dreams, never quit, and never forget those who gave their lives so that we may enjoy ours.”
Army Col. David Jones, commander of the 113th Sustainment Brigade, said, “Rice is the definition of a 113th Sustainment Brigade ‘Steel Soldier,’ whose determination to succeed inspires others and makes the whole unit twice as strong.
“But above all else, she’s proud to be an American Soldier, serving her country, and honoring our fallen heroes,” he said.