Starting on Monday, Feb. 27, travelers along N.C. Highway 12 may spot a small team of runners making their way to or from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The 15-20 runners are participants of the annual Swammie Shuffle 200, which is a grueling race from Sandbridge, Virginia, to the Buxton landmark and back.
The event, which launched in Virginia on Sunday, February 26, is celebrating its third consecutive year in 2023, and is an initiative to raise awareness and funds to help end veteran suicide.
On February 28, 2020, Dustin “Swammie” Lang became one of the 22 American veterans who lose the battle to post-traumatic stress and depression every day.
“To that put number into context, that’s 8,030 veterans every year,” said Race Director, James Huller. “The Iraq War lasted eight years, and we suffered about 4,500 casualties. The Afghanistan War lasted 13 years and we suffered 2,400 casualties. “
“So, we lost 7,000 over a combined period of 21 years of war, and we lose 8,030 [veterans] every year to suicide… It’s unreal when you look into the context of what ‘22 a day’ actually means.”
Dustin was a Marine veteran who did three tours in Iraq, earning a Purple Heart and a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his service. Josh Fosberg, one of the event’s Race Directors, served with Dustin in the military, and wanted to honor his friend in a significant and close-to-home way.
“Josh lived in Virginia Beach, and he ran out here on the Outer Banks, and decided that this would be a great place to do a run in Dustin’s honor,” said Huller.
Last year, the Swammie Shuffle raised $14,000 for Mission 22, a national organization that supports active service members, veterans, and their family members.
This year, the team is raising funds for their own recently-launched organization, Awareness N Action.
“There are a ton of organizations out there that do great things for veterans, but the small grassroots ones don’t get utilized as often because of a lack of money,” said Huller. “So we use Awareness N Action as a base to earn funds to share with other organizations. We’ll give approximately 50% [of our proceeds] to Mission 22, because they are doing amazing things, but we’ll also give to smaller organizations that reach out to veterans on a local scale.”
The race started at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, and from there, it’s a roughly 110-mile trek from Sandbridge to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse along N.C. Highway 12.
“It’s hard to tell when [a runner] will specifically make it Hatteras,” said Huller. “It all depends on how fast they run, how many breaks they take, and what they do at night as far as sleep goes.”
“Last year, the race’s winner made it to the lighthouse and back in about 72 hours,” he added.
When word spread in 2022 that the scattered group of exhausted runners on the side of N.C. Highway 12 were on a mission to end veteran suicide, islanders took notice.
Local residents and businesses along the Outer Banks put out signs congratulating the runners, or simply waved, honked, or found other gestures to show their appreciation for the mission.
“It is pretty awesome to see those signs, or just a friendly wave,” said Huller. “By the time they get down to the lighthouse, 110 miles from the starting line, they’re beat, and they’re tired. So any form of positivity always lifts their spirits.”
The first runners will likely begin the Hatteras Island leg of the 220-mile trek on Monday or Tuesday, Feb. 27-28, but the public can keep tabs on the runners’ progress at https://www.facebook.com/awarenessnaction/, where race updates will be shared on a daily basis.
Signs, cheers, and community support are always welcome during this long journey, and folks can also make a contribution to this very worthy cause via the Awareness N Action website.
“We’ve raised about $4,000 so far, and we hope to raise more [during the race],” said Huller.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the folks down there [on Hatteras Island]. Last year, we had interactions with lots of folks, and we’re grateful for all the community support.”