Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Blogger! Cheryl Moore, a 2010 Outstanding Airmen of the Year

Senior Airman Cheryl Moore, a Multi-Source Analyst, was acknowledged last year as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. While deployed, she analyzed Predator video enabling compound Hellfire strikes. She warned combat units of imminent threats and protected forces against snipers, improvised explosive devices and ambushes. She has led intelligence fusion for 120 remotely piloted aircraft missions with 1,300 hours on targets, giving critical situational awareness for 240 combat operations.

Below is a piece she wrote about competing in a snowshoe race earlier this year and wanted to share her experience competing in this challenge!

"A few years back, there was an article about the Navy's Wilderness Challenge in the Air Force Magazine and after reading it, I had to go participate.  It was such a great time and I never would have known about it without the article.  I am hoping to do that for someone else." - Cheryl Moore

A Runner in Snowshoes
By Cheryl Moore

With an air of exasperation, I leapt off the snow packed trail, tugged off my gloves, bent down and yanked at my gators and snowshoe straps. As quickly as possible, I reached the source of my frustration - loose shoelaces. With a sense of urgency, I pulled them tight, cinched my snowshoe straps back down and re-secured my gators. Springing from my crouched position, I took off in a sprint with hopes of making up those precious minutes. The stakes in this race were high - the outcome would determine if the Air Force or the Marine Corp would claim victory in the 2011 National Snowshoe Championship race.

It all started back in November 2010. While spending Thanksgiving in Sun Valley, Idaho, I saw a small ad in the local paper advertising an upcoming 10k snowshoe race in January. I imagined a group of people lumbering through the forest, awkwardly elbowing each other while vying for first place in giant wooden snowshoes. A little research turned up some surprising results. Not only did I discover a dedicated group of snowshoe runners sprinkled throughout the country, I also found a well-established organization called the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA). In addition, I learned that companies such as Atlas and Dion make high-tech, compact snowshoes made specifically for running. My imagination shifted from my earlier caveman era race to a highly competitive, nimble sprint through pristine wilderness. That was it - I was in. I eagerly signed up for the race in Sun Valley, purchased a pair of snowshoes and impatiently waited for race day to roll around.

The Idaho January day turned out beautiful with a bright blue sky and crisp temperatures in the 20's. A crowd of athletic looking people milled around the start line, adjusting snowshoe bindings and stretching chilled muscles. The starting shot shattered the quiet mountain air and my anxiety of tripping over my snowshoes disappeared. The short, compact devices felt good on my feet and the snow made a pleasant crunch sound with each step. The course was two circuits of a challenging 5k loop that included groomed trails, un-groomed single tracks and plenty of hills and valleys. It turns out I was not as nimble as I imagined and I ended up tripping in the deep snow of the single track twice, each time with a spectacular face plant. When I finished the race in 1 hour and 30 minutes, I was aghast at my time, I had anticipated no more than an hour. Then I remembered that this was my first time snowshoe running and was pleased with my 3rd place finish. 

I was determined to improve my time and I saw my chance when I opened the Air Force Newspaper about a month later and saw a small ad for the National Snowshoe Championship race held in Wisconsin. This was the first year for a military only division and I immediately began plans to go and represent the Air Force.

When I showed up for the race in mid-March, it felt like a giant family reunion. The members of the USSSA are a friendly tight knit group that welcomes every new racer like a long lost cousin. This family knows how to celebrate in style and the resort they chose near Cable, WI had fantastic food and amenities.

Race day: I surveyed the starting line and tried to identify which one of the 43 other women was the Marine. All of the racers looked like star athletes so I knew I had to run all out in order to take 1st place. I started off in the back of the pack and began slowly when the gun went off. It was lightly snowing and the course quickly took us away from the crowd and into the forest. We wound around through the trees and my heightened senses breathed in all of the natural beauty around me. I settled into my pace and rhythm with confidence but before the half way point something was wrong. My shoes were loose and getting more so by every step. It took me about four minutes to fix my shoes on the side of the trail and I didn't know if one of the ladies who passed me was my competition.

With my shoelaces secured, I continued on the course that took us back through the lodge area and then split off for a different loop. The course was a great mix of rolling hills and a few steep climbs that had me gripping the side of the mountain to keep from toppling back down. As I neared the finish line and heard the cheers of the crowd, my pace quickened in response. I sprinted to the finish line as quickly as I could and crossed over at 1:08:09. I was thrilled to have knocked off 22 minutes from my previous race, but I still didn't know if I had beaten the Marine. I would find out later that day when the USSSA hosted a great dinner and awards ceremony for all of the racers. 
Senior Airman Moore, from the first race in Sun Valley, Idaho
That night everyone was in high spirits celebrating their achievements and enjoying the camaraderie. When my division was called, I was stunned and thrilled that I had finished in first place. I had beaten the Marine by a mere 3 minutes. The smiling judge handed a giant trophy and instructed me to take it to my base for the year. Every year the cup returns to the Championship race and the winner takes it to their base for the year.

Moore in Wisconsin
I hope that more people will get involved in this awesome sport. Running in snowshoes is easy and no training or experience is required. There are several companies who sell them such as Atlas and Dion. Running in the snow is an amazing experience, the physical elements are unique and the people involved are some of the best and most generous I have ever met. Each year, the National Championship is held in a beautiful resort location. 2012's race will be in Frisco, Colorado. I encourage all Airmen to take the challenge and run in this race to represent our branch and keep the cup with the Air Force for another year.

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