This is my second year working with the Fallen Heroes Memorial Run, and while it’s certainly clear WHAT I do with this organization, many of you don’t know WHY I do what I do.
I’ve been procrastinating writing this post because I wanted it to be perfect, but the truth is, there’s simply no way that it can be. My reasons for supporting FHMR are dirty, messy, painful, beautiful and fulfilling. Not an easy thing to condense all of these complex feelings into a pretty blog post.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, while I do have extremely close ties with the Chairman and founder of this organization, I’d give my 100% support even if that were not the case.
There’s no easy transition here, so please allow me a moment to give you a little back story. Many years ago I scored ridiculously high on the ASVAB test and remember having multiple recruiters trying to talk to me at school. I wanted to enlist, I didn’t care what branch but I was scared. Of what, I’m not entirely sure, but I allowed the fear of the unknown to keep me from something I had no idea if I could be successful at. I promise this comes into play later.
I was 10 years old when my little brother was born in 1988 and I had grand visions of being his favorite sibling. I wanted to be the sister that scooped him up on the weekends and took epic road trips to theme parks and had wild adventures with no adults to tell us we couldn’t. I wanted him to be my best friend and I wanted to be his. Unfortunately the family dynamics bred resentment toward him and while I didn’t know that at the time my adolescent brain thought that was just how it was supposed to be. Big sisters were supposed to harbor those feelings toward the “baby” of the family. That’s what everyone said, and that’s what I allowed myself to believe.
Eventually I made the decision to move away and through a combination of my own selfishness and a strained relationship with my parents, I found it easier to distance myself completely rather than deal with what was so uncomfortable. My relationship with him deteriorated. I was never going to be the sister to him that I’d dreamed of. That hurt, but I was young still….and selfish.
I honestly can’t remember how I got the news. I’m pretty sure I blocked most of it out because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. My little brother, Army Specialist Andrew Toppin, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division – the Raiders, was injured in Iraq. I didn’t even know he’d joined the Army. What a shit sister. I felt lower than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
Andy has ALWAYS been a fighter, born prematurely, he spent time in the NICU at the University of Utah, was nearly blind as a toddler- man the glasses that poor kid had to wear, and being one of the tiniest football players you’ve ever seen! He earned the nickname “Timex” because just like their slogan, that kid took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’! Nothing could stop him. NOTHING. Not even those goddamned terrorists in Iraq.
December 12, 2009 he was driving the lead Humvee in a convoy when his vehicle was struck by an explosively formed penetrator, much like an IED. The vehicle caught fire and he was severely injured. His right leg was amputated, there was massive damage to his left leg and he was horribly burned. Eventually he was flown to Germany and then on to San Antonio. I won’t go into all the details here, but they’re out there. His story is incredible. And true to his nickname, he never EVER quit despite the long recovery that he endured.
Fast forward, Andy and his beautiful wife Ashley and their precious children live pretty close to me now and we’ve begun rebuilding our relationship. We’re all so busy with life, and as hectic as it is, we’re getting to know each other again.
We’ve had some extremely difficult conversations, the most painful was when he told me that he had been under the impression that I was anti-military and disappointed in him that he’d chosen to serve.
My heart was broken. I was sick at the thought that if he would have died in Iraq, he would have died thinking that his sister wasn’t proud of him. He may have even believed that I didn’t love him. That would have killed me. I lost one brother, I don’t think my heart could have recovered from losing another.
I simply cannot adequately express the immense pride and gratitude I have in my heart for that man, my little brother (God, he hates it when I call him the baby!). He did something I was too scared to. He signed that check and those fuckers almost cashed it for him.
HE is why I do what I do with FHMR. Because there were years I missed, years he thought that I didn’t care, years that we can never EVER get back! Because I love him, I love the boy he was, the man and father he is, and most importantly, I got a second chance, by the grace of God, I have the opportunity to have a relationship with him now!
You can say it’s guilt. Yeah, that’s probably true. Maybe I’m trying to make up for being a shitty sister. Maybe I know that I can’t, but I want him to know that his sacrifice is appreciated and the only way I know how to do that is to commit my service to helping as many veterans as I can, in whatever small way I can.
It is with great pride that I share with you my WHY! The reason I do what I do, the Operation Enduring Warrior, 2017 Spartan Beast/ Fallen Heroes Memorial Run adaptive athlete… MY BABY BROTHER…. Andy Toppin! I couldn’t be more proud of you! I am so lucky to have this opportunity to run this race with you.
I love you boy, you will always be my hero!!!
Please see www.fallenheroes.run for all the ways that you can support this event!