Redwood Falls Gazette
  • Bret Schmidt: In for the long haul

  • Bret Schmidt went from being the slowest runner in his high school class at Redwood Falls to being one of the organizers of the third largest marathon in the world — year after year....
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  • When Bret Schmidt was attending Redwood Falls High School in the 1970s, he didn’t like running. “I was one of seven children, the tail end of four boys, and I wasn’t a good runner like they were,” he said last week. “I knew I had no speed, and was one of the slowest runners in my grade. I knew I had to work at this. “Sprinting is something you’re either good at or you’re not. It’s something you’re either born with, or not. But I learned that if you can train your (long-distance) muscles, your body will adopt to it. “After a couple years, I learned I could get better at this if I worked harder at it.” In addition to his three older brothers, Schmidt credited RFHS coach and teacher Doug Ward as an inspiration. “He figured out how to work with each kid as an individual to bring out the best in them,” Schmidt said. Why did long distance running become so important to Schmidt? “Running provided a work ethic; hard work was rewarded with positive results,” he said. “It became a way of life, not just a simple sporting event.” While he was training his uncooperative body to be a long-distance runner, Schmidt was also training his mind for a long-distance goal of another type. “I started college at Southwest State in Marshall, then went to Mankato to study secondary education and coaching,” Schmidt said. “This was the late 1970s, post-Vietnam, and the military wasn’t a part of my plans at all.” However, Schmidt’s father served in the Korean War, and his three older brothers each served in the military. It was definitely there in the background. “My brothers took me to meet Marine recruiters, and I began to think this was something I could do. I dropped out of college and became a Marine.” Schmidt combined his passions for the Marines and running in 1982, when as a lance corporal in Washington D.C., he ran his first marathon. In fact, it was the same marathon he helps organize today, although he didn’t know that at the time, obviously. Among other running events, Schmidt provided security for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics torch relay. In addition to running alongside the official torch carrier for part of the way, he was allowed to carry the torch himself for one leg in Virginia as his children watched. After serving in Hawaii and Korea, Schmidt retired from the Marines, moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and settled down to organizing running events of various kinds for them. Today Schmidt is part of a team that creates 12 running events a year, among them the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). Last year, the MCM was the third largest marathon in the US, and 8th largest in the world. It is the largest, single day public relations event of the Marine Corps each year. The MCM is open to all runners, military or not. It starts in Arlington, Virginia, and ends at the Marine Corps memorial in Washington D.C. His tasks include collaborating with law enforcement on the route and on security, setting up medical personnel and facilities, and coordinating the volunteers. Did he pick up anything from his time in Redwood that’s stayed with him over the years? “My midwestern ‘can-do’ attitude,” he said, “and good manners. I was raised properly. I like the friendliness of a small-town environment, where you can look people in the eye as you walk down the street.” Today, organizing running events is a full-time occupation for Schmidt. He said, “It is exciting, exhilarating and extremely enjoyable being able to make a living with what you love in life. If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life.”
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