Childhood friends reunite, run to support veterans returning home

The Stevens Point Journal
By David Chrisinger
15 Nov 13

By Nathan Vine

Sitting at his computer early one morning in 2010, Brett Foley connected with an old friend and began rebuilding a life shattered by post-traumatic stress disorder after his service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Foley, who served in the Marines for five years, from 2005 to 2010, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, found support in his struggle with David Chrisinger, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point alumni who grew up with Foley in Rhinelander. The two bonded overrunning, and they decided to use that connection to help some of the estimated 1 million service members who will have transitioned back into the civilian workforce through 2016 as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

The friends, both now 26 years old, paired about a year ago with The Mission Continues, a national service organization that helps veterans transition from the military to service and leadership programs that allow them to continue to serve in their communities.

Foley and Chrisinger set a goal of raising $10,000 for the organization and competed in The Fall 50, a 50-mile ultra-marathon in Door County on Oct. 26 as a way of seeking donations. They also created a website, www.running50.com, to share Foley’s story and the men’s experience with running, to offer more information about The Mission Continues, and as a place for veterans and their families to connect and share stories.

“Working with Dave has made a big difference. He’s been there to listen, and convincing me to write about my story has helped me move on,” said Foley, who now lives in Madison. “We’ve also had guys I served with really coming out of the woodwork to visit the website, so it’s reaching people who need that support.”

Finding meaning through running

Foley said he needed support after returning home from Okinawa, Japan, following his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, as he obsessed over his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and felt like he no longer had purpose or direction.

“I went to a VA hospital, and I really wasn’t happy with that whole situation. I talked to some people, but they wanted to put me on medication, so I kind of gave up on it,” Foley said.

Enter Chrisinger, a Kenosha resident who after high school attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor of arts degree in history and social sciences. Chrisinger said he had only seen Foley a handful of times since graduating from Rhinelander High School in 2005, but the two began chatting on Facebook.

Foley said he talked about his military experience and his difficulty returning home, and Chrisinger told Foley about The Mission Continues as a possible resource for help. The two became inspired to raise money for the organization, and they quickly decided on running as a way to do it. Chrisinger, who played defensive line on the UWSP football team for three years had taken up running after school and had competed in several marathons, while Foley had run to stay fit both during and after his military career. The two discussed running a marathon, 26 miles, but eventually settled on a race nearly double that length.

“I run a lot, and I wanted to go a little bigger because of the money we were trying to raise,” said Chrisinger, who is a communications analyst with the Government Accountability Office. “I honestly thought that Brett wouldn’t go for it at all, but he agreed.”

Foley said he trained for months, running 10 to 15 miles every other day, but said nothing prepared him for the roughly 11 hours it would take he and Chrisinger to complete the race, which stretched from Gills Rock on the very northern tip of the Door Peninsula all the way to Sturgeon Bay.

“We ran together and encouraged each other, but at some point, you kind of just go on autopilot and keep one foot in front of the other,” Foley said. “When we finished, it felt like we really accomplished something.”

Chrisinger said he saw the experience of running an ultramarathon as being similar to the struggles veterans such as Foley face.

“When you start the race, and even through the first 10 miles, you feel great because you’ve trained for it. It’s like a honeymoon,” Chrisinger said. “After that, things get harder and harder, and you have to find a way to push through it.”

Going forward

Through their efforts, Chrisinger and Foley have raised about $7,000 for The Mission Continues, and they said they will continue to find ways to support the organization. But the duo also are reaching out in new ways to teach people about the plight of veterans returning home from war.

Foley recently was the keynote speaker at a Veterans Day event in Rhinelander, and in September he and Chrisinger spoke to students at UWSP about their experiences. The two also are exploring the possibility of creating a class at the university as a way for veterans to learn about writing as a way to share their stories.

Foley said he completed his associate’s degree in criminal justice at Madison Area Technical College and is considering pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Foley said he eventually wants to become a police officer and move with his wife, Whitney, back to the Rhinelander area.

“I’ve kind of always wanted to be a cop, and the skills I have apply to that career very well,” he said. “I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.”

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