A quiet November morning on the University of Maine campus consisted of a few early birds going to Hilltop dining for breakfast and those headed to the campus gym for an early morning workout. But inside the New Balance Student Recreation Center, runners gathered in groups, waiting for a chance to participate in their own workout to honor the nation’s military veterans.
“I have a couple of family members who are in the military,” Rebecca Schuman, a first-year management student, said. She wore running shoes and a light blue Androscoggin Hall T-shirt with a numbered sticker on the front. “I’m running for my cousin. He’s been deployed four times to Iraq.”
She was just one runner of 178 who were participating in the first annual University of Maine Veterans Day 5K race.
“It really turned out great, particularly during this last week,” Jeff Hunt, director of Campus Recreation, said. “The majority of the field is active duty or vets.”
Participants in the race included veterans, active duty members and members of the general public, although those who were not affiliated with the military were asked to contribute a $15 for admission. Hunt mentioned that all proceeds would go to aid veterans studying at UMaine.
The excitement grew when runners — a few of whom were accompanied by their dogs — lined up along the start line behind Hilltop Dining, ready to be given the signal. Then they took off on a 3.1-mile course that would take them down the Rangeley Road and onto Park Street, then down College Avenue and onto Long Road all the way back to the tennis courts beside the rec center.
The event drew a variety of participants, including groups such as the UMaine Army and Navy ROTC and the UMaine Veterans Association. One family in particular made the special journey to the race in honor of their military heritage.
“We came all the way from Caribou [Maine],” Doug Lombard said after the runners had left. He was a veteran of the Army National Guard (ARNG), a component of the United States Army that is designated as the primary federal and state military reserve force. Doug Lombard served for 32 years. Both of his daughters, whom he raised with his wife Patricia Lombard, have had affiliations with the ARNG since Doug Lombard first enlisted.
“Did you notice our shirts?” Doug Lombard asked. He wore a shirt that read, “Lombard Crew: 57 Years of Service,” with the silhouetted symbol of the Wounded Warrior Project in the center. He, his wife, their two daughters and three grandchildren at the event wore the matching grey shirts.
“My daughter [Meaghan Lombard] is the first full-time female pilot in the State of Maine aviation,” Doug Lombard explained.
Chief Warrant Officer Meaghan Lombard, 36, is a former helicopter pilot instructor at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Bangor International Airport. Later she became a medevac helicopter pilot and completed at least one tour in Iraq. After a while she attended a grueling flight instructor training program in Fort Rucker, Ala.
“I think she is due to be promoted soon,” Doug Lombard said.
Runners began to cross the line about 18 minutes after the start of the race, the first being Perry Lebreton, 41, of Kenduskeag, Maine, who had a gun time of 17:34. Male and female participants could be heard saying “nice run” and giving high-fives as a slew of runners crossed the line.
After a while, Meaghan Lombard, along with sister Danielle Lombard, crossed the finish line together with a time of 35 minutes and 48 seconds and taking the 135th and 136th places, respectively.
Danielle Lombard is also a veteran of the ARNG who worked at Loring Air Force Base before it closed in September 1994.
Meaghan Lombard could be seen clutching an American flag as the two approached the finish line.
“It was awesome. The weather was nice and there was a good turnout for this event,” Meaghan Lombard said, trying to catch her breath. Their family at the finish line, along with the grandchildren who had finished earlier on, embraced the two sisters.
The Lombard family always makes a point to celebrate Veterans Day events. They planned to attend the Veterans Day Parade in Bangor after the race, an event their daughter Meaghan Lombard performed at every year during her time as a member of the Maine Army National Guard Band.
Participants and spectators left soon after the majority of runners crossed the finish line, but the Lombard family stayed to embrace each other in one final huddle.
“Keep in mind why we’re are all here,” Hunt said to the runners before the race. They cheered at that point, and they kept cheering all the way to the finish.