BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — From the Boston Marathon to Alaska's Mount McKinley and Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, this husband and wife team, in more ways than one, has never let distance stand in their way. And even though their next adventure separates them by thousands of miles, they said they're still in it together.
"We train together for everything," he said. "She pushes me hard on runs and I push her hard on the bike and it balances out."
"Though not competitively," he said. "Just occasional recreational races over the last three decades. I've become increasingly focused on competitive distance running, biking, and triathlon events over the last few years and probably race one to two times a month back home. Here, I run about four times week and ride around three."
Hoffmeister is from Massachusetts and his wife is from New York. They are now residents of Alaska. "We call ourselves 'born-again Alaskans," he said.
On June 1, 2009, Hoffmeister and Gayle flew to the base of Mount McKinley to summit the highest point in North America. They were joined by their friend, Bob Haines, and three other Iraq veterans - Army Spc. Dave Shebib, retired Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm, and retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman.
Kuniholm and Nyman didn't make it due to altitude sickness, and Gayle had to stop due to hypothermia. Hoffmeister, Shebib, and Haines succeeded in reaching the summit. And, two years later, Gayle summited Mount McKinley.
It was on April 22, 2007 when Hoffmeister's patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The blast severely damaged his left arm, causing broken bones, nerve damage, and a traumatic brain injury.
"My injuries create challenges every day - even typing," he said. "However, I view the experience as an incredible opportunity for post traumatic growth. It changed my life in more positive ways than negative ones."
In 2009, he earned National Geographic Adventure Magazine's Reader's Choice Adventurer of the Year Award for that Mount McKinley expedition. And he said that training helped prepare him for that climb and all of life's demands.
"Life is about training," he said. "We've trained all year for different events, but our training changes focus in preparation for specific races and life circumstances."
He and his wife ran the ATM together for the last two years. And, this April, they raced the Boston Marathon, and competed in Idaho's Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June. The Mount Kilimanjaro climb happened in 2010. And they both climbed Argentina's Aconcagua in 2013 - but didn't summit due to weather issues and a medical situation where a climber had to be rescued.
"This has been a big year for me and my wife," he said. "Shared training and competition is a big part of who we are as a couple. We jokingly call it our marriage counseling. We would have raced the ATM together this year, so this shadow run gives us a chance to run together in a different way."
Gayle, a prior service medic, has been running since she was nine years old. Her very first run was in elementary school when she wanted to make the 6th grade track team. And she did her first marathon when she was 12.
"I am always training for one event or another," she said. "I just change up the volume and speed workouts. I just came off an ultra-race, and I'm trying to add speed back into my training. But I also keep up the volume because I have another ultra in November."
She's planning to run next year's Boston Marathon. And said she's happy that her husband will shadow her at Bagram.
"I plan to run a shadow Boston Marathon run here at Bagram whether or not a formal shadow event occurs," Hoffmeister said. "So anyone who wants to can join me!"
"What's next on the list? I'm not sure yet," he said. "Lots on that list. But I take command of the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg next July immediately upon redeployment so the focus will be on taking care of our troopers to the best of our ability."
Also running in the ATM Shadow Run was Maj. William "Hunter" Bowers, secretary of the Joint Staff for USFOR-A, out of the 3rd Infantry Division based on Fort Stewart, Georgia. Bowers ran the ATM in Washington, D.C. in 2012 and his wife, Lyza, will run her first ATM next month.
"My advice to her is just enjoy the run," he said. "It seems to be more of a social event than it does a race. There is great scenery along the way and it is just a fun run to do. So just enjoy it and do not stress about the time."
Bowers, from Tennessee, runs about five miles a day. He said his first run was the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1998.
"I like to get in about 80 to 100 miles per month," he said. "That is not much to some people but, here in Afghanistan, that is quite a bit."
Lyza has been training for the run by herself and with friends. She first started running as a cheerleader in college.
"But running - just to run - has been a process that happened over the last few years," she said. "I try to run at least three times a week for distance. But my other workouts include sprint-type workouts."
A teacher by trade, she recently stepped down to sell health and wellness products for a well-known international health company.
Lyza said she's big into fitness classes, lifting weights, and forcing herself to run. She is into high-intensity interval training, and is beginning to experiment more with CrossFit training. She also plans to run the Rock 'n' Roll Savannah half marathon in November. And, although she's done a half-miler before, this is her first 10-mile run.
"I love that Hunter and I can do the ATM 'together,'" she said. "I do not love running, but I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from races like this. I also love that it is something we have in common."