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Originally published October 7, 2014 at 7:38 PM | Page modified October 8, 2014 at 9:10 PM

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Triathlete runs through the pain barrier

On Saturday, Lisa Hallett of DuPont will stare down her fears, plunge into Kailua-Kona Bay and begin the 2.4-mile swim that kicks off the grueling Ironman Triathlon on the Big Island of Hawaii.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Wear blue: run to remember

Learn more about the organization co-founded by Lisa Hallett at wearblueruntoremember.org.

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On Saturday, Lisa Hallett of DuPont will stare down her fears, plunge into Kailua-Kona Bay and begin the 2.4-mile swim that kicks off the grueling Ironman Triathlon on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Just one week earlier, at a small park in DuPont, Hallett and about 100 other joggers, clad in blue, gathered in a circle, each calling out the names of a fallen service member in whose memory they meet each Saturday morning to run and remember.

For Hallett, it’s all part of an ongoing healing process now more than five years old.

In August 2009, Hallett was at a military family meeting at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the first one since her daughter, Heidi, was born three weeks earlier. Three weeks before that, her husband, Capt. John Hallett, had deployed to Afghanistan in command of the fifth Stryker Brigade. His battalion commander told Hallett he could stay behind for the birth, but he declined, because he felt it was his obligation to be with his soldiers from the outset.

Lisa, meanwhile, felt buoyant, having firmed up child-care arrangements for her two young boys. She set down Heidi next to her in a classroom and settled in for the meeting. Then she felt the tap on her shoulder from the rear detachment commander.

The rest is a blur — the walk across a big grass field, the two waiting men in green suits, one reading from a piece of paper: “The Secretary of Defense regrets to inform you that your husband, Capt. John L. Hallett, is believed to have perished in the fires ... ”

At first, Lisa clung to the desperate hope that screamed out to her from the word “believed.” With a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a baby whom her husband had never met, they had to be wrong.

But they weren’t. John had been killed, along with three other soldiers, when his brigade was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Southern Afghanistan. They had just delivered medicine to a village that had a cholera outbreak.

“My world,’’ she said, “was totally rocked.”

In the wake of her overwhelming grief, Hallett, then 28, now 33, turned to running, which had always been an avocation but quickly became a central part of her life. Initially, she thought she was running away from the pain.

“Then I realized I wasn’t running away from it; rather, I was running through it,’’ she says.

Hallett is eloquent in speaking about the organization she co-founded with a fellow military wife, Erin O’Connor, called wear blue: run to remember. Originally conceived as a group of local runners with connections to Joint Base Lewis-McChord who got together to bond, heal and exercise — in the early days, they left from a Burger King parking lot — the organization now has chapters in Fort Bragg, N.C., and Springfield, Va./Washington D.C.

That’s in addition to 21 organized meetups (more informal, but recognized gatherings) across 16 states and abroad, with an estimated 6,000 weekly participants.

“I think sometimes in the wake of a great tragedy, words are inadequate,’’ Hallett said. “How do you say, ‘I’m sorry your husband gave his life for me and my country?’ So we have this space where men and women can stand side by side and without words acknowledge their appreciation and gratitude for the incredible losses that have been given.”

Hallett, meanwhile, found running to be the perfect therapy for her own loss, and wear blue: run to remember to be the support system she needed. At first, she trained for marathons, but after 20, 30, 40 (“I stopped counting”) she needed a new challenge. So Hallett ran five double marathons (52.4 miles), loving the test, the feeling of accomplishment and the cathartic release.

“It was something tangible I could hold on to,’’ she said. “It gave me a kind of verbal currency other than, ‘My husband died, my husband died, my husband died.’ It gave me the opportunity to say, ‘I’m training for this,’ or ‘this is really challenging.’ It was something I really needed on many levels after John passed away.”

Once ultras were conquered, the next frontier became triathlons. A fellow wear blue: run to remember community member and accomplished triathlete, Elizabeth Thiel, urged her to try Ironman Canada. Hallett resisted, until she saw the date of the race: Aug. 25, 2013, the fourth anniversary of John’s death.

“I don’t know if ‘kismet’ is the word, but it was just too meant to be,’’ she said.

Despite her fear of open-water swimming (which, once conquered for those 2.4 miles, is followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then a full 26.2-mile marathon), Hallett finished the Ironman in Canada, and another in Coeur d’Alene.

Now the big one, in Hawaii, awaits, and her coach, Bruce Antonowicz, is one of many who stand in awe of Hallett’s commitment.

“She’s an amazing person,’’ he said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for what she’s doing. The hardest thing for me as a coach is to try to rein her in. She has so many things she wants to tackle, I have to say ‘Choose a priority, you can’t do it all.’ ”

For Hallett, it all centers on her dual missions of spreading the word of wear blue: run to remember, of which she is the president, and honoring the memory of her husband.

In so doing, Hallett has found a way to cope with the pain that will never leave. In person, she is cheerful and effervescent, but the raw emotion is apparent when she talks about John.

Running, she says, helps her push pass the hurt, literally and figuratively.

“The ‘hard’ truly translates into how I can live my life,’’ she said. “That ability to say, even when my life is hard, you can persevere through this and continue to achieve. Get through the suck because there is more on the other side.”

Sometimes, when Hallett is deep into a grueling workout, she feels the presence of John even more strongly than normal. He was a superb athlete who excelled in swimming, while her forte was running. Lisa’s joke used to be that John had the sea legs, she had the land legs.

“The run gives me the space outside the chaos of the day-to-day to reflect, remember and channel that into a conversation forward,’’ she said. “When you’re at this difficult moment deep into the heart of a swim, bike or run, you are raw enough to be honest with your emotions. That’s something I’ve really valued being part of this endurance world.’’

Hallett is one of a group of people invited by Ironman to participate, circumventing the normal qualification process. She will be given the opportunity to share her story and that of wear blue: run to remember with the Ironman community. The hope is that it reaches the network audience when the event is aired on television.

As for the race itself, Hallett knows she will finish hours behind the pros, which is fine. Finish is the operative word.

“I want to have a strong body, stronger mind and joyful heart,’’ she said. “That’s a win.”

Jessica Alley, the interim executive director of wear blue: run to remember, having joined in 2010 after reading an article about Hallett, calls her the driving force behind the organization.

“Lisa leads from the front, as her husband did so valiantly,’’ she said in an email.

When Hallett gets back from Hawaii, she’ll return to the park in DuPont to rejoin her wear blue: run to remember friends, all in the memory of John Hallett.

“John made the ordinary extraordinary,’’ she said. “He was a very joyful man who could find pleasure in simple, everyday life. I think that is such a gift.”

As a single mother, Hallett is dedicated to ensuring that her kids, now 8, 7 and 5, know of the gifts of their father.

“They are healthy, happy children, with the exception they’re missing someone for whom they care very deeply,’’ she said.

Hallett knows she can’t say, “What do you remember about Daddy?” because they were too young. Instead, she says, “Let me tell you a story so you remember Daddy.”

“They’re hungry for that,” she mused. “They want to know. ‘Tell me a Daddy story!’ Every night: ‘Tell me a Daddy story.’ ”

And so Lisa Hallett regales them with tales of Capt. John L. Hallett III, a patriotic soldier and devoted family man. On Saturday, she’ll swim, bike and run for him. And then she’ll come home and immerse herself in wear blue: run to remember as she tries to strike the difficult balance between honoring her late husband, but not wallowing in the grief.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to remember,’’ she said. “But we have to remember. I think not remembering, forgetting, is bound to hurt more. Remembering John, honoring his life and keeping his legacy present, his tenets of character, allows us to live a life inspired, and really to move forward.”

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry



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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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