A little over three hours after Cadet Sgt. Juan Carlos Estremadoyro-Fort shook hands with Bataan survivors at the Bataan Memorial Death March on March 22 he finished his first marathon length run. Thirsty, hungry and with a slight cramp in his right leg he walked straight to the Bataan survivors to say thank you.
“For me it’s a reminder of those a long time ago who sacrificed so much for their country and today for those still serving all over the world,” Estremadoyro-Fort said.
An 18-year-old Cadet Sergeant at the New Mexico Military Institute, NMMI, Estremadoyro-Fort came from Mexico City to pursue a better education. With his family in Mexico he says he can’t wait to tell his father.
“I’ve been running since I was little. I feel best when I run. I run two or three times a day and my father encourages me a lot to keep going.”
The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile event held annually at White Sands Missile Range in honor of the individuals who survived and those who died during the World War II death march at the hands of the Japanese in 1942 on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.
Estremadoyro-Fort said he signed up for the march through his school track team, but soon realized the Bataan Memorial Death March was a lot bigger than being competitive.
“A family we know asked if we would wear Capt. Todd Christmas’ (name) on our shirt in honor of him. From what I was told five family members went to war and only two are still alive. This gave me the extra motivation to do it.”
A former NMMI Cadet, Christmas, along with six other Soldiers who were combat veterans, lost their lives in a helicopter crash on Nov. 29, 2004 near Fort Hood, Texas.
Once Estremadoyro-Fort learned why NMMI chose to honor one of its own, he began researching the Bataan Memorial Death March.
“Before I did this I didn’t understand everything about Bataan, but now that I’m here I get it and I see it. Everyone here is doing it for their own reason, but to get to finish with the actual survivors watching feels incredible,” Estremadoyro-Fort said.
During his run Estremadoyro-Fort got hit with the competitive streak once he realized other runners were not stopping at the water points and were trying to pass him.
“I didn’t stop for drinks or food. I had two people behind me who were trying to pass me. I kept thinking I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to give up. Every time you think you are about to finish there is another turn and you realize you still have more to go.”
As of press time the official times for the 26th annual Bataan Memorial Death March have not been posted. Estremadoyro-Fort was the first runner to finish the runner category and will finish with a time in the top 5.
“It’s an honor to get to do something like this. It’s my first marathon and from what I heard one of the hardest. It’s a great story to say that Bataan was my first marathon. “