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Sergeant Ashley Rowback poses for a photo at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Feb. 5, 2016. Rowback recently completed a 48.6 mile four event race and raised more than 11,000 dollars for leukemia and lymphoma research in memory of her late grandfather. Rowback’s love for running has given her the ability to use something she enjoys as a way to raise awareness. Her passion for physical fitness has shaped her career in the Marine Corps and has paved the way for her transition into the nursing field upon her exit from the Corps. Rowback is the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general’s driver. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas/ Released)

Photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas

2nd MAW Marine runs 48.6 miles, raises $11,000 for leukemia

21 Mar 2016 | Cpl. N.W. Huertas 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

Sergeant Ashley Rowback was on her last couple of miles in the final event of the most grueling physical challenge she’d ever faced when she finally hit her wall. “What do I do now?” she asked herself. “Do I walk, do I give up?” As if an answer to her own internal turmoil, she glanced at a fellow runner and knew she had the strength to finish the race.

Amongst the crowd of runners was a woman who wore a bandana over what little hair she had on her head, and a ball cap with the word “Survivor” embroidered across the front. As the woman ran her own race in a sea of more than 35,000 fellow runners, her steady pace and obvious determination to cross the finish line gave Rowback the boost she needed to overcome her own personal struggle.

This was no ordinary road race. Rowback and the others were grinding through the final leg of a four-day race that would total nearly 50 miles – a sequential series of runs starting at 5 kilometers the first day, followed by a 10K, a half marathon, and finishing with this soul-testing full marathon over the remaining three days – 48.6 miles in all.  And every runner there had their own personal reasons for taking on that monstrous challenge. For Rowback, it was another stride in her marathon against the deadly ravages of leukemia and lymphoma, inspired by the memory of her late grandfather.

Rowback’s love for running began at an early age, but her grandfather’s brief struggle with acute leukemia nearly seven years ago spurred her to turn something she enjoys into a way to raise funds and awareness for leukemia and lymphoma research. And that focus, with its passion for physical fitness, has shaped her career in the Marine Corps and has paved the way for a planned future in the field of nursing.   

“The amount of strength my grandfather had to fight his short, 17-day battle with cancer is the reason I do these races,” explained Rowback. “Being able to raise money, and then put my body through pain in order to help find a cure is the only reward I will ever need. The little bit of suffering I have to go through will never compare to what a child, mother or grandfather has to go through to fight cancer, and hopefully kick cancer’s butt.”

As the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general’s driver, Rowback has proven to be an exemplary Marine throughout her time at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. She was originally an air support network operator with Marine Air Support Squadron 1. While working under the operations officer, her squadron sergeant major nominated her for the position of the general’s driver based on her strong work ethic and her reputation as a well-rounded Marine.

“I don’t think you can be fully ready as a Marine if you’re not physically ready,” explained Rowback. “Being mentally ready is important, but if you cannot physically do something, then you are stuck. Being a well-rounded Marine means to strive to provide the best in every aspect of your life. You must know your job, be physically capable of performing, be mentally strong, and carry out beliefs and traditions.”

According to Rowback, nutrition, physical activity and overall health have been a large part of her life for many years. Her drive to help others live a healthy lifestyle was initially motivated by her family’s health history and the determination to be a good example for her younger family members. From there, that desire seemed to grow legs of its own.

“The first half marathon I ever ran was the Marine Corps half marathon on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune with my father and a friend,” said Rowback. “I did not think I would be able to finish those 13.1 miles.” But, said Rowback, it was a self-rewarding experience that left her addicted to running races, while fulfilling her desire to help others who need it.

Looking back to that exhausting four-day race in January, Rowback thinks of the nearly $11,000 she and her father, who ran the race with her, raised for medical research. When she had hit her personal wall, it was her father’s encouragement, her grandfather’s memory, and the inspiration of the other struggling runners around her that made that accomplishment possible.

Remembering the survivor who ran next to her, Rowback said, “She reminded me of the real reason I was there. I run for people who can’t run, or those who can’t tell their stories. This is my way of giving back to them.”

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