Joey Lopez Memorial Run adds weight to the race

Photo by Dennis Anderson

ROSAMOND, Calif.–There is competitive running on a 5-K cross country course in the foothills of the Mojave Desert, then there is competitive running wearing a 20-pound weight-bearing vest.

“This is the first year for the 20-pound challenge,” said Art Pratti, the bonded brother of Joey Lopez-Pratti, one of more than two dozen Marines killed in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago during a fatal deployment known as the “Million Steps March.”

The Joey Lopez-Pratti Memorial 5K has been run in the foothills of the desert suburb of Rosamond since 2010. Each year it begins with the war cry of the 3rd Marine Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment: “Get some!”

This year on the first day of June, a mild Saturday morning, about 200 runners, walkers, and one dogged lady in an electric wheelchair and a Chihuahua, all took off from the start line of the 5K course up through the foothills, starting and ending at Rosamond High School.

“Get some!” everyone yelled, and they were off.

Pastor Charles Wallis, an Army veteran who gave the invocation, and Joey’s dad of record, Arthur Pratti, monitored the course in a big, red pickup truck with Old Glory and Marine Corps colors streaming off the tailgate.

At the end of this year’s race, with winners clocking in with 21-minute times, the 20-pound challengers suited up with their weight-bearing bests. They all looked something like Joey Lopez-Pratti. They looked, for the most part, like Marines.

“Our home town team from the 3/5,” Art Pratti announced. Key up the music, “Eye of the Tiger,” from Rocky III. Of course that would be the theme for the course.

A short while later, after their designated route, the 20-pound challengers started streaming in just as the hour hit 9 a.m. The winner was David Hernandez, who also won in his running class, young adult men, 17-35.

Lots of other winners too, including a strong second place for 13-year-old Arianna Pratti, granddaughter of Arthur Pratti, one of the founders of the race.

Joey was the son of Tracey Pierce-Pratti, and Joey was raised in the Pratti family. For nearly 10 years they have managed the loss of a beautiful, 26-year-old son by taking their grief, and turning it into action. All the funds raised by the race go to Youth for Christ, Joey’s youth group, and The Darkhorse Lodge.

The Darkhorse Lodge is a non-profit retreat managed by a survivor family of the 3/5 deployment of 2010. It is meant to be a haven for combatants returning from the fight who brought the battle home with them in the form of Post Trauma Stress Disorder and other challenges from impact of service.

The “20-pound Challenge” was this year’s innovation, said Arthur Pratti.

“Joey would run up in those hills,” he said. “That was his place where he trained. He would run wearing weights in order to get ready, and be prepared. He loved running.”

The event has attracted an array of sponsors like McDonald’s and CrossFit Training, and as ever, Jin Hur, the owner of Crazy Otto’s Diners was out early Saturday with a crew from Coffee4Vets, the non-profit group of military veterans that gathers Tuesday mornings at Crazy Otto’s on Avenue I. Hur’s son, Cpl. Richard Hur, deployed with Joey Lopez-Pratti in 2010.

Few of the Crazy Otto’s vets, most of them Vietnam War Era vintage in their 60s and beyond, planned to run.

“I can do the ‘Recon shuffle,'” said Tony Tortolano, a Gulf War era veteran of the Marine Corps. “I covered a lot of miles with that.”

The “Recon shuffle” is an accelerated walk-run that enables the participant to go for days, if need be.

Tortolano, and Vietnam War veteran Walter Sapp, managed a brisk hiking pace a few minutes behind Marine veteran Chris Chandler, commandant of Marine Corps League Detachment 930. The League supports Marine Corps veterans and their needs.

The seasoned campaigners hit the finish line right about on the hour mark, and were able to collect their breakfast burritos grilled by Hur, his lead grill man, and Juan Blanco, president of Coffee4Vets, a Cold War paratrooper.

Sapp relished the tortilla wrapped around cheese, potatoes and ground beef to cap the end of his 5K foray.

“That,” the retired Coast Guard officer said, “I think is the best burrito I have ever tasted.”

Some collected medals for the run. Some collected burritos. It all evened out.

Editor’s note: Dennis Anderson is a clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group. A paratrooper during the Cold War, he deployed to Iraq with National Guard troops from the Antelope Valley as an embedded reporter. He works on veterans issues and the field of community mental health.