SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — “On your mark, get set, go!”
Amidst cheers and applause, the runners take off from the starting line. Pulling out in front of the pack is a man in a neon yellow shirt emblazoned with the words “Team Momentum” carrying a billowing American flag that serves as a guiding beacon for the rest of the racers.
He runs with a grin on his face, even as the hot southern sun beats down on him. The source of his countenance waits for him in a wheelchair at the finish line, wearing the same smile and matching shirt as she watches for her brother.
For Senior Airman Michael Hall, 20th Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight and operation medical technician, the 3.1 miles of this “fun run” are hardly the most difficult obstacle he has faced through the years.
Shortly after birth, Hall’s siblings DJ and Danielle were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and medical professionals estimated their life expectancies to be less than 20 years. DJ passed away less than a year after that diagnosis; however, over two and a half decades later, Danielle has more than beaten those odds, albeit at great cost. Through the years, she has endured countless surgeries, including steel bars placed in her back to correct the almost 90 degree curve of her spine.
Even now, her organs continue to slowly shut down and her breathing becomes more labored.
Overcoming long odds is second nature in Hall’s family in their efforts to ensure Danielle is never alone in her fight. When Danielle contracted pneumonia, doctors suggested that her health would fare better in warmer weather. Without hesitation, Hall’s family packed up their lives and moved from their hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, to Florida. For Danielle’s sake, Hall’s father gave up his construction business and their mother left her job as a retail manager to become full-time caretakers for their wheelchair-bound daughter.
A few years later, Hall was approached by an Air Force recruiter who talked to him about the possibility of enlisting. Though it was something he had always wanted to do, Hall declined at first for fear of missing out on his sister’s life. Later, after some research and thought, he brought the idea up to his family.
“They said, ‘you’ve done so much for us, you also have to do what’s best for yourself,’” said Hall. He enlisted in August 2010.
In 2012, Hall participated in a “tough mudder” competition with some co-workers that sparked a fire inside of him. He took to running competitively, and eventually worked his way up to half marathons, marathons and even an Ironman triathlon.
In November 2013, despite having never swam or biked before, Hall was able to complete the triathlon, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile marathon – only a year after his initial mud run.
Shortly afterwards, he was deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and participated in the Air Force Marathon there. After witnessing the fight overseas firsthand, Hall was inspired to carry an American flag in any run he took part in.
“Running with the flag is my way to give back to our veterans…to our fallen soldiers,” said Hall. “It inspires me because when you’re running, the spectators are saluting the flag, they’re cheering; it doesn’t get tiring at all.”
However, patriotism isn’t the only motivation that fuels him during his runs.
“Last year around the July timeframe, Danielle was in the hospital, and before going into surgery she said something to me,” said Hall. “She said, ‘Mike, if I wasn’t sick and could walk, I would run a marathon with you.’ At that moment I knew that one day, I was going to show her how much that meant to me.”
His opportunity came much sooner than expected.
Only three months later he shared his story with a man during the Marine Corps Marathon, who in turn passed it on to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The MDA then reached out to Hall, offering him the chance to represent their team, Team Momentum, in the 2017 Boston Marathon.
“What better way of supporting this cause than running the most prestigious marathon in the world?” said Hall. “I’m fulfilling my dream, while also supporting a cause that is very dear to my heart.”
In order to make his dream a reality, Hall first had to meet the challenge of raising the $5,000 asked of him by the MDA. Not only did he agree to their request, he pledged to double that amount, aiming for $10,000 before the marathon in April – all of which will go toward treatments, cures and research for muscular dystrophy.
Lt. Col. David Eisenach, 20th AMDS commander and Hall’s officer in charge, first heard about Hall’s story when he nominated the Airman as Shaw’s “Weasel of the Week” on Jan. 18, for professionalism and proficiency in his craft. Before being recognized, Hall shared his tale with 20th Fighter Wing leadership.
“We brought him in and said ‘hey, what’s your story,’ and once I heard that I thought ‘we’ve really got to do something to help,’” said Eisenach. “If we didn’t have the ‘Weasel of the Week,’ I would never have known about it.”
Compelled by his story, Hall’s 20th AMDS wingmen assisted in organizing a 5K at the Fitness Center Annex Feb. 25 to help spread awareness about muscular dystrophy and raise the $10,000 needed to send Hall to the marathon.
With the support of all his family members, both military and civilian alike, Hall is ready to run for his country on his biggest stage yet. All the while, he clings to a philosophy he adopted when he joined Team Momentum – a motto interlaced with the hope that one day every step he’s taken and every mile he’s run will add up to a cure for his sister – “I move my muscles to strengthen hers.”
“My brother is my best friend,” said Danielle. “He inspires me and because of him, I refuse to give up. I want to continue to fight this disease and make him proud.”
In April, when Hall stands at the starting line of the world’s most prestigious marathon, surrounded by millions of spectators, journalists and fellow competitors, the man with the flag will prepare for the race ahead. The most meaningful finish line of his life awaits him over 26 miles away – but it’s not the distance that he will think of. Rather, it’s the promise of his sister’s smiling face waiting on the other side that lends him strength and purpose.
“My miles have meaning.”