Will Stokes had known for a while that he wanted to do something to honor members of the military, specifically Navy SEALs. So he decided to do something a SEAL might do: Over Memorial Day weekend, Stokes plans to run 100 miles in 24 hours.
The two-time Wingate graduate (biology ’13, physical therapy ’16) is using the run as a means of raising money for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support and assistance to SEALs, who constitute one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. Stokes met his initial goal, $1,000, on the day he began promoting the run earlier this spring, so he promptly doubled it. Last week, he met the $2,000 goal as well.
“I thought $1,000 was a pretty lofty goal,” Stokes says. “I was completely blown away. I did not anticipate that kind of response that quick.”
Stokes does not plan to become a SEAL, but he will become a sailor, in hopes of treating the special operations community. Currently awaiting commission approval, Stokes expects to become a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, working as a physical therapist, within the next year or two. The Concord resident works as a PT in Mooresville.
Stokes’ father served in the army, and he can trace military service in his family back to the Revolutionary War. “It’s a long totem pole of service within my family,” he says. To continue the tradition, he considered being “military-adjacent” – serving as a PT for the Veterans Administration, for example – but after weighing the pros and cons he decided that joining the military full-time was too good an opportunity to pass up.
In fact, his SEAL Foundation-supporting run was born out of his application to join the Navy. A member of the swim team at Wingate, Stokes has remained in good shape since leaving Wingate, but he found out that he wasn’t quite in Navy shape. So he started running.
“I had to get to a level of fitness for my physicals and everything, to join as an officer,” he says. He now runs four times a week, for a total of about 50 miles.
Four half-marathons a week might seem impressive, but it’s still a far cry from what he’ll endure next weekend. He plans to start running at 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 30, navigating a one-mile loop in downtown Kannapolis. After consulting with ultradistance runners, he decided to run in five-mile increments, walking or jogging a recovery lap between each set to rehydrate and replenish vital nutrients.
That schedule might make you Couch-to-5k’ers out there cringe, but Stokes is pretty sure he can finish. “I think I have a good foundation down,” he says. “But everybody I talk to says it doesn’t matter what kind of foundation you have. A hundred miles is a hundred miles.”
If he stays on schedule, he’ll be done by 2 p.m. on Monday.
It’s going to be a solitary, often lonely venture. Stokes purposely decided to start late in the day, so it would be cooler for most of the run. But it will also be quieter. He plans on listening to podcasts and music until his phone battery gives out. His wife and other family members will be there for emotional and material support, rotating in and out in shifts, but for the most part it’ll just be Stokes and his thoughts.
“It will just be me and my family,” he says. “They’ll set me loose on Sunday and swing back and pick me up on Monday.”
Rain or shine, Stokes will be out there, passing City Hall, the Kannapolis Cannonballers’ stadium, and Veterans Park over and over, trying to ignore the pain and fatigue. “It’s coming down to the final stretch,” he says. “I’m ready for it. I’m nervous. I’m planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”
It’s the least he can do, he says, for a group that gives so much to the country. Stokes says he’s running 100 miles to honor 100 SEALs who have given their life in the line of duty (official numbers are hard to come by, because of the top-secret nature of the job). He hopes to eventually work with the SEALs as a physical therapist.
Check out Stokes’ Facebook event page for more information or to donate.
May 21, 2021