FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Army Spc. Deme Ergie wasn’t always a runner. And as a medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, he found little opportunity to keep in good cardiovascular shape while deployed to Afghanistan.
“It was hard to find the time to really get a good workout downrange,” Ergie said. “The ground back on [Forward Operating Base] Shoja wasn’t really good for running.”
But when the “Bobcat” soldiers of the 1-5th started returning here in April, Ergie saw a chance to get back in shape and seized it. Several officers and soldiers with the 1-5th had formed Team Bobcat Rush -- a group of motivated running enthusiasts who planned to represent their battalion at various events throughout Alaska during the summer running season.
At the top of Team Bobcat Rush’s list of activities were the Army 10-mile tryouts in May and the Anchorage-based mayor’s marathon in June.
Ergie was born in Ethiopia, and before he joined the Army, he lived in Alexandria, Va., where he said he hopes someday to return and go to school. Away from home and fairly new to the Army, Ergie said, he decided he would join the Team Bobcat Rush, purely to improve his running.
“I wanted to get better,” he said.
Team Bobcat Rush’s captain, Army 1st Lt. Ivaylo Benov, recalled how difficult it was for Ergie at first. “He had difficulty just completing a basic two-mile run [in Manas, Kyrgyzstan] while we were waiting to come home,” he said. “We were aiming to do a really easy self-paced workout, and it was pretty tough for him.”
But Ergie kept at it, showing up almost every day after Team Bobcat Rush returned home for 5:30 a.m. practices at the Chena Bend Golf Course here.
“We ran that early in the morning because we wanted to be used to running long distances during the same time of day as the race,” Benov explained. The team’s workouts usually were at least eight miles, and at least once a week team members could expect to run more than 10 miles.
The practice and Ergie’s personal dedication paid off; he ran the 10-miler trial in 69 minutes, 37 seconds, averaging less than seven minutes a mile. That time qualified him for an alternate position on the U.S. Army Alaska 10-miler team and made him the second-fastest member of Team Bobcat Rush.
Ergie’s performance in the Freedom Fest 5K, held a little over a month later, was even more impressive: he clocked in at 19:43, or about six and a half minutes per mile. That performance won him second place overall for the race.
“This is just outstanding,” said Army 1st Sgt. Larry Addy, Ergie’s company first sergeant. “Ergie is a role model for the rest of the soldiers in this company and this battalion. He really is proof that anybody can get in shape if they’re just willing to put in the time and dedication.”
Army Capt. Mike Gorman, company commander, agreed.
“The really great thing about Ergie’s success is that he is a guy who picked himself up by the bootstraps and got better without us, the chain of command, having to tell him to get better,” Gorman said. “I’d feel so much better if more soldiers in this company followed his example.”
Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Conn, the 1-5th medic platoon sergeant, has started running with Ergie regularly. “He pushes me and is getting me in great shape,” Conn said.
Team Bobcat Rush has continued to grow, with more junior soldiers starting to attend practices. Benov speculated that the increased numbers have something to do with soldiers having seen one of their peers go so far in so short a time.
But Ergie is humble when talking about his own success.
“I’m not special,” Ergie said he emphasizes to anyone who asks him about his running. “I think that anyone can do what I’ve done -- absolutely. It just takes dedication.”