If Mark Meirink runs the heavyweight division of the Bataan Memorial Death March race again, he'll make sure his backpack weighs exactly 35 pounds.
After plunking their packs on a scale at the finish line of the race March 17 in White Sands, N.M., Meirink, 23, of Maryland Heights, and his cousin, Matt Ramsey, learned that they had each carried about 7 pounds more birdseed along the grueling 14.2-mile course than they needed to.
Officials weigh the packs after the race to keep participants honest.
"We weighed them at the hotel beforehand and it seemed like it was about 35 pounds but they were closer to 45," Meirink said. "You know ... whatever. We were finished by that time so it wasn't a big deal."
Meirink, 23, a U.S. Marine from Maryland Heights who lost his lower left leg in Afghanistan two years ago, was profiled in the March 14 edition of STLHealth.
More than 5,500 people participated in this year's race, which is held annually to honor servicemembers who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II. A dozen survivors of the Bataan Death March were on hand to greet them at the finish line. One of them, Ben Skardon, 95, even walked 8 1/2 miles of the course.
Meirink says shaking the survivors' hands was a highlight of the day.
"Considering what they went through, our race was nothing," he said.
The 14.2-mile race included a 1,500-foot elevation gain and lots of loose sand, which makes footing under normal circumstances tenuous. It is worse with a prosthetic leg.
Meirink and Ramsey, 36, of St. Louis, ran the first part of the race where the dirt was packed hard, then walked the second part, which included the loose sand. Meirink changed from his running blade to his walking leg for the last part.
"It's hard to change out legs and put on the right amount of socks while carrying the pack, but it went pretty smoothly," he says.
The two finished the race in 4 hours 41 minutes.
David Pokorny, 45, of Kirkwood, paid for Meirink's travel expenses and race registration. He found the race so moving five years ago when he ran it that he wanted a St. Louis veteran to experience it.
Pokorny, a member of Team 180 Energy, a local group of runners who travel the country promoting an energy drink, traveled with Meirink and Ramsey and won this year's civilian heavyweight Bataan Memorial Death March marathon by finishing the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours 51 minutes carrying a 35-pound pack.
"We saw David on the course. He actually passed us up," Meirink says. "I don't know where he gets it from. He's very in shape."
Meirink also felt like his cousin, Ramsey, who has run several marathons, could have finished faster and is grateful that he stuck with him.
"I'm sure I held him back a little, but it was awesome that he went out there and was there for encouragement and to suffer through with me," Meirink said. "It was a lot more enjoyable being with someone than doing it by myself."