A more extreme Olympics set in Destin

Susan Moody

We are gearing up for the start of the Olympics this week. For a couple of kids who have grown up in Florida, they seem pretty excited about all the winter sports. Inspired by a recent viewing of “Cool Runnings,” everyone is interested in the Jamaican bobsled team.

Harper is looking forward to the ice skating, mostly because she likes the costumes, and Alex, based upon his new found appreciation of the Boston Bruins, is anxiously anticipating the hockey games. If I had to bet which events will get the most air time in our house, however, I’d bet on the skiing and snowboarding events. These “extreme” events have a way of capturing your imagination and taking your breath away at the same time, and whether it's hockey or ice dancing, skiing or slope-style, every athlete is looking to be bigger, go faster, and be stronger.

This trend has infiltrated every sport imaginable, including running. The ever growing popularity of “Tough Mudders” and Mud Runs speak to athletes’ commitment to pushing their limits. In fact, according to a recent article, there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of Ultra Marathons and Races since last year. Destin is once again ahead of this trend and is hosting some of the world’s most elite runners during the Fourth Annual Destin Beach 50 Ultra Marathon, set for Feb. 15-17.

Over the last three years, this event has raised more than $100,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Billed as the “World’s Longest Beach Run,” the Destin Ultra 50 is a series of races, including a 50K race, a 50-Mile Race, and a 50-Mile relay race. Deployed servicemen and women also have an opportunity to participate in a 50-Mile, 50K or 50-Mile Team Relay Shadow run. In 2012, a runner did 50 miles aboard a U.S. Navy ship!

Last year, a team of runners, including world champion and American record holder Mike Martin and Connie Gardner broke the 24-hour sand run world record. Joe set a new Guinness Book Of World Records standard with 134 miles run, and Connie set a new women’s’ word record, logging 116 miles in 24  hours – all in the sand. This year, Fort Walton Beach resident and current Ultra Running phenom Joe Czabaranek is expected to shatter some course records in the 50-mile event, and Connie Gardner and Joe Fejes are back to tackle the 24-hour run. 

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was specifically created in 1980 to support and educate the children of the nine men who died during the Iran hostage crisis. Today, the mission of the foundation includes providing for the educational, social, and emotional needs of the surviving Special Forces families. Today, there are more than 70,000 Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines working on Special Forces teams. Special Forces teams tend to be younger service men and women, and when there are fatalities or causalities, there are often young children left behind.

The foundation works to advocate for and provide access to counseling and immediate financial support for the families. Most notably, the foundation provides full educational scholarships to every child who loses a parent during a special operations mission. According to the foundations’ website, there are currently 145 students enrolled in colleges and universities across the country, and 231 foundation scholarship recipients have graduated from college.

If Ultra running isn’t on your bucket list, you can still sign up for the 5K or Son of a Beach Challenge. All proceeds go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and the event is looking to raise $50,000 this year. If you’re still not interested in participating, the race is looking for volunteers, spectators, and of course, donations. If you’re looking for some motivation for your own fitness goals or some inspiration as we head into February. I think you’ll find it at the Destin 50 Ultra. You can get more information about the race and registration information on their website

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at