Putting on the miles

“I really didn’t run until I joined the Army when I was 17,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer St. Amand, a recruiter with the Minnesota National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “I was in basic training and the drill sergeants made a big deal about it; it lit a fire in me to continue to push myself more and more.”

St. Amand, who is originally from Canada, has served in the military for 17 years. She originally started with the active-duty component before taking a break. She decided to continue her service with the Minnesota National Guard in 2019.

St. Amand is also a member of the Minnesota National Guard’s Marathon Team. The team consists of four people who are selected to represent the state against 53 other states and territory teams every other year and to compete for a spot on the National Guard’s Marathon Team.

“I didn’t just run the two-mile in the Army, I kept going,” she added. “Now I run 100-milers. I love that as I grow older, I can keep challenging myself with it.”

Earlier this year, the Marathon Team, consisting of St. Amand, Sgt. 1st Class Adam Walton, Army Maj. Tim Gearns, and Army Lt. Col. John Zimmerman, traveled to Nebraska to compete in the Lincoln Marathon. The Lincoln Marathon doubles as the National Guard’s qualifying marathon, where only 25 men and 15 women can be selected to be part of the following year’s National Guard Marathon Team. The Minnesota team placed 3rd overall and both St. Amand and Walton qualified for the national team this year.

“When we go to the qualifying event, we represent the state of Minnesota,” said St. Amand. “If we make it on the national team, there’s different events throughout the year you can participate in, and everything is paid for.”

Walton, who has been a member of the team since 2019 and recently became the state coordinator, has been running since he was a kid.

“It’s a forever activity,” said Walton. “Be patient with yourself and continue to invest in your health. The marathon game is a long game. It’s not something you’re going to win when you’re 20 years old.”

Walton began training for his first marathon when he was just 16 years old and has qualified for the National Team three times. For him, being part of the team is encouraging other Soldiers to be the best versions of themselves and gives him the opportunity to mentor Soldiers of varying ranks.

Walton joined the Minnesota National Guard because of his family’s history of service. He says he stayed for nearly 20 years because of the people in the Minnesota National Guard.

“When I look to my left and to my right and out into the ranks, it’s the people you know, it’s serving the community and all of us having shared goals and shared vision,” said Walton. “And working towards making Minnesota better and the country better as a whole.”

Both St. Amand and Walton have big goals for the upcoming year. St. Amand just completed the unofficial rim-to-rim-to-rim crossing of the Grand Canyon, running nearly 50 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation gain. She plans to represent Minnesota and the National Marathon Team at the Boston Marathon next spring. Walton is looking forward to competing in the Anchorage Marathon in Alaska this summer.

Outside of competition, both Soldiers say that running is a big part of who they are and that it gives them the space to think innovatively and creatively.

“Sometimes, you are there to enjoy the experience,” said Walton. “It’s fun to have those races, where you are just enjoying running and enjoying the experience because being competitive all the time wears you out.”

Running also allows them to promote the National Guard and fitness.

“The implementation of the [U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness] program really lines up with what we are doing on the team,” said Walton. “We are moving in a direction as a force more towards caring about our health in general. The team represents that in a positive light.”

The Minnesota National Guard also has an endurance team that works similarly to the marathon team. The endurance competition typically involves various exercises to test endurance and strength of service members in a competition setting. The team will compete at the All-Guard Endurance Team Competition in Knoxville, Tennessee in March.

“The first step [to joining the team] is expressing interest and the second step is proving it,” said Walton. “Communicate the desire to be part of the team, joining the Strava group, and reach out to current team members.”

Both teams offer members a chance to represent the Minnesota National Guard within the fitness community. For St. Amand, this is particularly important as a recruiter.

“Being in the Guard is more important nowadays than ever,” added St. Amand. “People want to serve the people they know and that’s what we do here, we serve our communities, and we serve our families.”

Staff Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs