JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. —
Finally crossing the finish line with 52 miles of steep, mountainous terrain behind her, Jessica Begay was overwhelmed with relief as friends greeted her with congratulatory hugs and high-fives for accomplishing her second attempt at the Blue Ridge Double Marathon.
In 2017, Begay’s first attempt at “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” was stopped due to inclement weather -- she was unable to continue her run despite only being nine miles short of the finish line.
For the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Inspector General assistant inspector general, the Army has been a way for Master Sgt. Begay to enrich her life through camaraderie and achieving personal physical goals.
Growing up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, Begay enlisted in the Army to serve as a role model for her younger siblings and to pay homage to her grandfather, a World War II veteran.
Begay said her Navajo heritage plays a fundamental role in how she keeps herself motivated. Her passion for running was sparked when she participated in a traditional four-day long ceremony in which coming-of-age girls run toward the sun for prolonged distances.
“Running early in the morning as the sun rises symbolizes refreshing the mind with positive thoughts,” said Begay. “We would yell while running to show that our inner voice is strong and firm.”
Since completing that spiritual journey, Begay has become a daily runner. She began to test her limits not only for Army physical fitness requirements, but for personal fulfillment as well.
“I try and hang out with people who motivate me and push me,” said Begay. “I get to meet so many awesome people in these groups and at various events. You really get to know someone while you’re running with them for several miles.”
Through this newfound network, Begay became a regular event attendee as well as an ambassador for a non-profit organization that helps veterans compete in fitness challenges after suffering injuries while deployed.
While maintaining her course of self-improvement, Begay said she was always looking ahead to her next challenge. After years of building her endurance, she had her sights set on the Bataan Death March. This march would prove to be a new kind of challenge for Begay as she would ruck in full duty uniform for more than 26 miles. So she looked for extra motivation to push her through.
“A couple of my friends had family members who were part of the original death march in the Philippines,” said Begay. “I taped photos of them to my ruck sack and I told my friends I would carry their families with me. Those photos kept me going because I knew I couldn’t fail them.”
Having served in the Army for the past 21 years, Begay said she looks to younger Soldiers for motivation to keep her driven and active.
“I can’t be a good leader if I’m not out there keeping up with these Soldiers and staying on their level,” said Begay. “All these challenges have taken a toll on my body, but I won’t let that stop me. My mind is telling me I can keep going.”
Begay’s ambition for self-improvement allowed her to find a passion in motivating others with physical discipline, and she said she has no plans of slowing down any time soon. Conquering the Blue Ridge Double Marathon has only fueled Begay’s aspirations for tougher races as she is now gearing up for South Carolina’s “Knock on Wood” 100-mile run.
“I never thought I would ever finish a 26-mile marathon, but I have learned to never underestimate myself,” said Begay. “People call me crazy for doing these runs. That’s fine, I’ll take ‘crazy.’”