As people in Spokane were sleeping prior to the start of the annual Bloomsday run, Mitchuk and 101 others had just finished it -- on the far side of the world. The lithe Ukrainian, 26, blazed the 12-kilometer course around a dusty military base in 58 minutes, 13 seconds.
"I mostly just roll like thunder," quips Lt. Col. Donald Ott, Jr., (1:30:50) a 57-year-old chaplain from Spokane who, unlike the young Ukrainian, is built more along the lines of a friendly rhinoceros.
Ott's comment sent laughter rippling through the small group of military men from four nations and three continents, all posing nearby for photos holding special T-shirts and standing in nearly 100-degree heat after finishing the first Bloomsday in Iraq.
It was exactly the kind of relaxed, happy moment Ott was hoping for when he and fellow Spokane hospital chaplain Pam Rossing broached the idea of bringing Bloomsday to a battle zone late last year.
"Part of the reason I was doing this was to bring a slice of Spokane over here," Ott says in a telephone call from hot, dusty Camp Echo.
Ott is halfway through a 12-month deployment at Camp Echo, a Polish base between Baghdad and Basra that features soldiers from India, Nepal, Jamaica, Uganda, Romania, Ukraine, Lithuania, Mongolia and the U.S.
"With so many nations represented, it's kind of a mini-Olympics," Ott says of Bloomsday in Iraq. Thanks to his persistent recruiting, 131 soldiers registered and 102 finished. (Some entrants were called away on missions just before the race.) This is more than four times as many who show up for other recreational runs on base.
"Everybody realizes that we don't have opportunities like this come down the pike very often to mingle with people of many nations and enjoy each others' company."
Even on a base as diverse as Echo, units might stay mostly in their own compounds, running their own missions. Ott wanted Bloomsday in Iraq to be just as inclusive and fun as it is here.
"People told me I must be nuts," when he pitched a 12-kilometer race in a place where daytime temperatures hover near triple digits this time of year.
"We said you don't have to run, you can just do it and have fun. So, partly because of the festive atmosphere, we had people who are slow joggers and walkers come out who never show up for the 5Ks," Ott says.
Ott got the huge turnout even though Bloomsday in Iraq had nobody in a vulture costume, no hairy-legged men running in French maid's costumes, not even anybody with garden hoses. What it did have was sandbags instead of balloons at the starting line, gravel roads, concrete blast walls... and dust. "Everything is tan here. Even the trees are tan," Ott says, from the constant sifting of fine dust.
But he also got smiles. He got jokes. He got a platoon of Mongolian soldiers who ran as fiercely as if they were chasing down ancient glories. He got the gregarious guy from India, the one who runs the dining hall, to enter and later say he was grateful and all -- but it was longer than he thought it would be.
He got, in sum, all these people who will carry Bloomsday memories to five continents.
Memories that will sparkle... like lightning!
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& lt;li & After running 12 kilometers inside these blast walls at Camp Echo, Iraq, in 1:02:50, 44-year-old Polish soldier Jacek (Jack) Bak says he enjoyed the race but found it much harder than the 5K White Eagle run he did the day prior to mark Poland's Constitution Day. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & More than 100 soldiers from five continents take off at the start of the first Bloomsday in Iraq. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & He just wanted to bring a slice of Spokane to a combat zone -- and it was a rousing success. Lt. Col. Donald Ott, Jr., center, a Spokane chaplain in the middle of a 12-month deployment, helps sign up the troops, complete with official numbers and finish times. & lt;/li &
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