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Fábregas: Running marathon an elixir for Carnegie veteran

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Talk to anyone running in the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday, and they'll tell you it's been tough to stay motivated and train during the nasty weather. Not many people like to run in subzero cold and over piles of dirty snow.

But talk to Dan Blevins of Carnegie, and you'll find a man who found a way to stay motivated while trying to rebuild his life.

Blevins, 30, returned to Western Pennsylvania two years ago after serving in the Army for 10 years. His military career took him to Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and elsewhere. He didn't have it easy, often doing jobs that were physically demanding. One of them required that he don heavy military gear and test it in 100-degree heat until his body couldn't take it any longer.

“It was definitely a life-changing experience,” he told me this week about his military career.

Coming home wasn't easy. The 2003 Keystone Oaks graduate felt isolated and withdrawn.

“I wouldn't say I was fully depressed. I wasn't myself. I had to refind my life. I had lost all my friends back home,” he said.

Some days he felt better, only to feel worse the next day. He had a foot injury and developed other health problems. His motivation vanished.

“The pain at times was so much, I sat in my house all day and started to drink,” he said.

Blevins poked around on Facebook and other sites, trying to find an activity to inspire him. He bumped into a local chapter of Team Red White & Blue, a group known for connecting people, including veterans, to fitness activities. It has more than 36,000 members worldwide.

You've probably seen some of them in race events in your neighborhoods, always wearing patriotic gear and often carrying American flags. As a part-time runner (I've done a few half-marathons, but trust me, I am no Alberto Salazar), I watch them in awe as they run by, not just because I could never do it, but because running with an American flag is the ultimate symbol of freedom.

Joining the group proved to be liberating for Blevins.

“Some organizations just get together to drink and don't do anything meaningful,” he said. “These people want to get into the community and motivate. Everyone is there for support.”

Blevins, a long-distance runner in his school days, began participating in races in the fall. A few 5Ks here, a relay there. He hurt his foot again, forcing him to take a short break.

In January, he started training for his first full marathon. He often trained on a treadmill. Sunday is his big day. He'll run with about two dozen veterans who also belong to Team Red White & Blue.

He is humble about his chances of posting a good finish time, saying he is nowhere near the fitness level he'd like to achieve. And he's philosophical about acquaintances who haven't been as fortunate and find themselves struggling with alcohol addiction.

“There's definitely a positive way to change your life, and there are people out there supporting you along the way. Although you feel alone sometimes, you're definitely not alone.”

If he succeeds on Sunday — and I'm pretty sure he will — Blevins said he wants to participate in other races.

“This is the beginning for me,” he said. “I plan to go much farther and beyond.”

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998.

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