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Malmstrom Airman runs 19 miles for his 19th birthday

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mary Bowers
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

For most people, birthdays are a day to take it easy or treat yourself, but for one Montana Airman, his birthday was a day to challenge and push himself.

Airman 1st Class Jairo Vazquez, 341st Force Support Squadron services specialist, woke up at 3 a.m. on the morning of January 28 to put on his running shoes, jacket and hydration pack before braving the frigid four-degree weather and heading to the outdoor track on base.

Vazquez's breath clouded in front of his face as he trekked from his dormitory to the obsidian-colored track to begin a 19-mile run in celebration of his 19th birthday.

By mile two, both his balaclava and hydration pack were frozen. Rather than be deterred by the discomfort and inconvenience, Vazquez pushed through for another 17 miles.

The quiet patter of footsteps continued for three hours as Vazquez ran around the track for a total of 76 laps. By the time he finished, the sun was creeping over the horizon to mark the official start of his day.

“The first six to 10 miles were easy, but after that it was a struggle,” Vazquez described of his inner turmoil as he grew weary. “I kept wondering, ‘Should I stop midway?’ But then I reached 15 miles and figured I could do the last four.

"Bible verse Deuteronomy 31:6 was going through my head too: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you.’” 

Vazquez’s feat of perseverance showcased not only the training he was used to for the past five years of his life, but a sense of determination he was forced to have as a child.

The avid runner was born with a cleft palate which subjected his childhood to be burdened by 15 reconstructive surgeries throughout 17 years. Vazquez’s spirit could not be dimmed, though, and he pushed himself beyond the boundaries others often tried placing on him.  

He decided to join his school’s cross-country and track teams in seventh grade and completed his first half marathon when he was 15. He continued with the sport through senior year, running an average of 50-60 miles every week.

His drive was only amplified when he began competing against as many as 300 students in the cross-country races he ran, and despite coming from a small school he was not deterred or nervous by the number of competitors. If anything, he thrived off it.

“The more people I saw, the more fun it would be,” he said. “The bigger the race the better, for sure.”

Vazquez began considering the military as a career path during his high school years but ran into yet another obstacle: he was told the likelihood of him being able to enlist was less than 10% due to his medical history, which included a jaw surgery two years prior.

If blisters and broken toenails would not stop him, though, neither would a cleft palate.  

Following six months of determination and paperwork, the 18-year-old Vazquez was finally on track to become an Airman.

Having led his cross-country team for three years, Vazquez felt ready for basic military training. He used his prior leadership experience and contributed to his flight’s success, using two physical training days to help his brothers train and pass their PT tests.

Now stationed far from home and with only six months under his belt as an Airman, Vazquez already has huge aspirations for his future: making the U.S. Air Force cross country team.

“Maybe someday,” he said. “I see the uniform and it’s like, that’s crazy. I would do that for free. I don’t even need to get paid for that. It’s my dream.”

Currently, Vazquez is in the process of training for his first-ever marathon coming up this summer. As part of that training, he is virtually participating for the fifth year in a St. Jude 5K in his hometown of Sibley, Louisiana.

“None of this would be possible without God,” Vazquez said, beaming. “I’m grateful for the strength and health God has given me.”