By DeJanay Booth
For a total of seven hours, Sarah Saleck marched 26 miles with 35 pounds attached to her back. But she trained for it months prior. In March 2015, she participated in the Bataan Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
On April 9, 1942, American and Filipino soldiers marched days in unbearable heat. Thousands of them died and the survivors left with memories of the march. More than 40 years later, a memorial was created.
Saleck heard about the event through her school, University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and decided to participate. She and a group of female cadets formed a team and trained throughout the winter including weekends.
“It was a real powerful experience,” she said. “It’s not only for military but also civilians. It was a life-changing experience.”
Compared to the memorial event, the mileage of the original march was nearly three times longer with harsher conditions. Soldiers did not have much food. Participants in the White Sands event marched in 80-degree weather, but were given water and fruit every two miles.
After 10 miles, Saleck and her team walked four miles up hill, taking on one of the most challenging parts.
“Why am I doing this?” she asked herself as she reached 24-mile mark.
Participants chose one of two paths to take. The green full path was 26 miles and the blue honorary path was 14 miles. People who took the green path experienced a small part of what the soldiers endured. Everyone wore the name of a fallen soldier written on a rock as if they carried the soldier with them.
Saleck looked up the name of the soldier she carried. She learned that he looked for a fellow soldier who was lost after their aircraft went down. He managed to find him and saved him.
“It was like this is why I’m doing this,” she said. “This is for the people who have fought, the people who are fighting.”
Saleck met a few of the living survivors and shook their hand. At the end, she and her team won first place for the female heavy category. The march helped her prepare for the weather conditions and training at Fort Knox.
“I think back to it and know that if I can conquer [the march] with a team, I know that I can conquer anything that can be thrown at me.”