MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
Seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven – that may seem like a large number, but not when counting days in a life.
Senior Airman Bryce Powers passed away in 2013 at 21 years old, but his Gold Star Mother Cathy Powers kept him alive in her heart. Gold Star families are the immediate relatives of U.S. Armed Forces members who died while serving, which can sometimes create issues in families.
“Four years in a row, I left my living family at home on Christmas to sit with him [at his grave] because I didn’t want Bryce to be forgotten,” said Cathy. “On the fourth year, someone told me that [the wreaths] were not Christmas decorations.”
Every year on National Wreath Day, wreaths are placed by volunteers at over 1,600 cemeteries across the U.S. and each veteran’s name is read out loud.
“After that, I told my husband that I was sorry for leaving them at home because I didn’t want Bryce to be forgotten,” said Cathy. “Bryce isn’t forgotten; people are saying his name.”
After this, she said something clicked in her brain, and she decided to get through the pain. For a while, she thought her problem was her weight but there was much more to it.
“I actually couldn’t believe I could run,” Cathy said. “When I started, I was very overweight and out of shape. The first exercise I could do was sit down on the ground and get back up ten times a day.”
By running, Cathy found a whole new meaning to life. She not only runs for herself, but for Bryce.
“It’s been a great way for me to just think about everything and deal with my thoughts,” said Cathy.
In April 2018, she signed up for a half-marathon.
“I wasn’t a running person at all, and I ran on accident because I signed up to do something for Bryce,” Cathy said. “I walked up the hills, crying, and ran down the hills. When we were done, they called my name to the front and said I won first place for my age range. I thought I was gifted; apparently 17-minute miles is not very good, but I still bragged.”
She continues to run and has lost over 140 pounds since then. When she mentions this to others, they focus on the loss and congratulate her, but that was never her intention.
“That weight represents so much poison in my body, mind and emotions,” said Cathy. “I still have days that I feel sad, lonely and angry, but when I run, I physically work those feelings out so that when I’m done running, I feel better and happier.”
The weight loss helped her find a new sense of pride.
“One day [last year], I went out [to where we store Bryce’s bags] and found [his physical training] shorts,” said Cathy. “I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t that be great if someday, I could ever wear those,’ but they wouldn’t even fit on one leg. Now I’m wearing them to every state I go to! He would not believe it; he’d be so proud.”
Powers plans on running at least 1,000 miles total in all 50 states before 2020. As of Sept. 19, she has ran in 43 different states; North Dakota was her 40th.
“I remember going to Eielson AFB and Elmendorf AFB,” said Cathy. “They must have had a lot of faith [for being the first state]. Now I’m able to say I ran in 40 states.”
It’s been a long year, but Cathy is close to completing her goals and hopes her story can help others.
“When I get to come on a base, it makes me feel like Bryce is still here,” said Cathy. “Everyone kind of looks the same in uniform, so it just makes me feel proud to be part of this family and to still be included. It means more than people probably know.”
Throughout the states, many people have helped her as well!
“A few weeks ago, I was in Wisconsin and my tooth broke,” said Cathy. “I ran by a dentist’s office and had been putting up with this [for a few weeks by then]. I just walked in off the street and told them what I was doing. He turned out to be a Navy veteran and fixed my tooth for free!”
He told her that he was moved by her story, but wasn’t the only one, she said. In every place, she has touched someone’s life and hopes to continue.
“At first it just changed my life, now it’s changing a lot of lives and it just makes me so happy,” Cathy said. “I don’t care what they did in the military, whether they raised their right hand or were drafted, they showed up. I’m running for the average person; they’re all heroes to me.”
Through her story, she realized that the number of days her son was alive was also important to others.
“I found out that’s how many new burials there are in Arlington every year,” said Cathy. “If they bury [about] 26 people a day, six days a week, it’s about 7,800 or a little bit less. That just really touched my heart and I knew I wanted to do something with that number.”
Knowing this, her final goal is to sponsor 7,777 wreaths for the veterans at the Arlington National Cemetery.
“I have chosen to share Wreaths Across America’s mission statement because it fits my heart,” Cathy said. “They remember our fallen, honor those serving and their families, and they teach the next generation the value of freedom. My goal with my running is to combine those things: to run with people and bring attention to our veterans and how much they give. It also makes me a healthier person, not stuck in a bad place, and personally, since my own son is fallen, makes me feel like I’m doing something great to remember him.”