The evolution of the Race For A Soldier fundrasing event has been a long, winding and introspective road for Olalla resident Leslie Mayne.
Before her son, Pfc. Kyle Farr, was found dead in a Baltimore hotel room in 2009, Mayne never would have envisioned the day that she was running her own nonprofit.
But she has taken on that role with courage, humility and a desire to keep her son’s memory alive and do whatever she can to help others not fall victim to the same demons that took the 27-year-old soldier’s life.
First, some background. Kyle grew up in the Peninsula School District, attending Gig Harbor High until his junior year. While Leslie and her husband were going through a divorce, Kyle moved to the east coast to attend a military academy in Virginia, near where his father relocated.
“(Kyle) needed that structure and discipline,” Mayne said.
The death of a cousin killed in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 played a role in Kyle’s decision to join the military. After joining the Washington Army National Guard, Kyle transitioned to active-duty service and nearly immediately deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. He did two tours in Iraq, and sustained a traumatic brain injury when his Humvee was hit by enemy fire during a mission, Mayne said.
Because his wounds were “invisible,” Kyle resisted proper treatment, his mother said.
“There was pushback on his part,” Mayne said.
Kyle was eventually admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in November 2008 to be treated for his brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He was dangerous to himself and others (at the time),” Mayne said.
Mayne was doing her best to hold things together in Washington state while her son was on the other side of the country. She continued working at the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tacoma, running support groups and clinics.
“I was trying to do everything I could to help him,” she said. “I felt very removed from trying to make a positive impact.”
Kyle was in the midst of preparing himself to leave the Army. But after he was discharged from Walter Reed, he didn’t let anyone in his family know. While Mayne admits that her son didn’t use good judgment that fateful night — likely mixing alcohol and perhaps other drugs with his medication, she says — he did not mean to die.
“(His death) was not an intentional decision,” she said, adding that there was no suicide note. “He wanted to make his family proud.”
After his death, Mayne decided to step away from her position at the MD Association to deal with her grief. She took a road trip to help clear her head, talk to God and try to start finding some answers.
It was then she new what she had to do. Soon after, the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation began to take shape.
All throughout the process, Mayne has relied on a tight-knit group of community members for support. Her church family has been instrumental, and while she was working for the Tides Tavern after leaving the MD Association, the owners and staff members there offered their support in a variety of ways — even helping put together a special event in 2010 at the restaurant to honor deploying troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
All of the events led up to Mayne establishing the annual Race For A Soldier fundraising event, which kicks off its fifth annual race Sunday (Sept. 27) in Gig Harbor. Heading into the inaugural race, in 2011, Mayne was unsure how things were going to turn out.
“I didn’t know if 15 or 1,500 people were going to show up,” she said.
But it was a success, and it started a solid following.
“It captured people’s hearts and minds,” Mayne said. “There was a spirit that prevailed. It has now attracted the best and brightest minds, and people with a heart for service. It has ignited something in people’s hearts. Every year it seems more people want to get involved and make it better.”
Mayne feels blessed to have the race every year in Gig Harbor, and praises the community for embracing it. She hopes her work with the race and the nonprofit will continue to bring awareness for soldiers and their families struggling with traumatic brain injuries and the effects of PTSD.
“There is a safety net (for service members) that hasn’t been created, but that is slowly improving,” Mayne said.
She also has a plan to create a special getaway in Pierce County where service members and their families can go to heal.
“I think (Kyle) would be proud of how his mom has carried on,” she said.
Race For A Soldier festivities
The two-day festivities — a prayer breakfast on Friday (Sept. 25) and half marathon and 5K on Sunday (Sept. 27) — have blossomed over the years into what is now a marquee event for the community. Twenty-five year veteran and retired Seal Team 6 leader James Hatch will share his story and devotion to the military K-9 program during the breakfast.
Registration for Sunday’s race starts at 6:30 a.m. at the Tom Taylor Family YMCA in Gig Harbor, 10550 Harbor Hill Drive. Runners can sign up on race day or visit www.raceforasoldier.org/register.