by AMBER SMITH ZALISKI
THROUGH EXTREME PHYSICAL COMPETITIONS, MELINDA KRUEGER FINDS BALANCE AND INSPIRES DEDICATION
SUBJECT: MELINDA KRUEGER
OBJECTIVE: TO CONTINUALLY PUSH THE LIMITS AND ENJOY A LIFE WELL LIVED; TO DO EPIC THINGS.
As the sun starts to set on a Friday evening, Melinda Krueger and a few of her closest friends get ready for the night ahead. They lace up their shoes, fasten their headlamps, and throw a 35-pound rucksack on each of their backs before heading out to face unknowable physical and mental challenges as they traverse miles upon miles of unknown terrain. For potentially 48 or so hours and 70-something miles they will walk, carry, crawl, and if need be, drag each other to the finish, so that at the end of it all, they can stand side-by-side knowing what they have accomplished.
While extreme physical challenges leave most of us shaking our heads in disbelief, Melinda thrives on accomplishing a goal that may have once seemed impossible. “I have been told that I’m crazy way more than I’ve ever been told that I’m sane,” she laughs. As a runner with numerous marathons and many ultra-marathons under her belt, Melinda has found her new passion in the GORUCK events. Founded by a former Green Beret, these events are created to simulate as close to a special forces’ military training experience as possible in a weekend. “This is not a race,” Melinda explains. “You have no idea what you will be faced with along the way, but the goal is always to get everyone to the finish. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and it is amazing to feel how everyone works in concert with each other.”
Back before she spent her free time “rucking” and training for it, Melinda was, and always will be, a runner. “We had a cross-country requirement in junior high, and I hated it!” she said. “I would just run the two miles as fast as possible to get it over with.” That plan backfired when her name got passed along to the high school track coach as a potential athlete. “I finally agreed to go to one cross-country practice, and, well, I fell in love with it,” she said. “I loved the people, and we had so much fun training together and competing.” A track scholarship continued her running career for a couple years, and in her early twenties, Melinda jumped feet first into her first ultra-marathon. “I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, I just read about an event in Runner’s World that sounded kind of fun.” The event? How many miles can you run in 48 hours. The answer for Melinda, despite never having run farther than 10 miles beforehand, was 105.1 miles. “I was just young and didn’t know any better,” she laughed, “but I’d probably say that it didn’t go so well because I didn’t run another marathon for 22 years.” During those two decades when she wasn’t running marathons,
Melinda was raising two boys and focusing on her career as a surgical ICU nurse and a trauma nurse before transitioning into other healthcare fields. “I was still running some, but when I tried to train for a marathon, I’d get to a certain point and decide it wasn’t fun anymore,” she said. “Eventually I found a great running club, and that made all the difference.” Melinda completed her first official marathon (26.2 miles) in April of 2010, and it left her hungry for a lot more. Since then she has completed numerous half-marathons, 15 marathons, seven 50Ks, one 50-mile race, and two more 100-mile races, in addition to that very first one. “Without the guidance, support, and love from my running friends in Texarkana, I never would have completed that first marathon.”
From Texarkana to Sulphur Springs is roughly 100 miles, and developing the stamina to run that kind of distance takes considerable dedication. “I joined CrossFit several years ago because I wanted to get stronger to be a better runner,” she explained. “I had always been skeptical and worried about getting too “bulky” for running, but I was so wrong! I love lifting!” During her travels for work, Melinda started to see GORUCK posters in the different CrossFit boxes she would visit, and brought that idea home with her – something that sounded kind of fun, once again. In August of 2016, a group of 20+ CrossFit Texarkana members entered the Mogadishu Mile Special Event in Dallas, hailed as one of the toughest physical, mental, and potentially spiritual events offered. While most of the team that completed it said an emphatic never again, Melinda and a few others were completely hooked.
As she unfolds a rectangular black canvas revealing the patches she has earned from each completed event, 24 so far, she recounts countless stories that accompany each one. There are no trophies or shiny medals at the finish line – just a small cloth patch the size of a business card. Well, that, plus a newfound confidence in what you are capable of, the respect of your teammates around you, and lessons that carry over into every day of your life. “Each event is so different because it is designed by the Special Forces Cadre that is leading it, and there is so much history and purpose behind it,” she explained. “It is something you kind of have to experience, but it gives you a greater perspective on what our military endures and what you yourself are capable of. My biggest take-away from these experiences is that you always have a back-up plan, and no matter what challenges you face, you can find a way to figure it out.”
During one particularly long and grueling event, the Cadre leading the team stopped everyone for a break and asked them all a simple question; Why? Why are you doing this? It’s a fair question, and there are plenty of reasons. “I’d say that ‘runner’s high’ is a real thing for me – training and competing make me feel very balanced in my life,” Melinda said. “Of course I want to be as strong and as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and I hope there are future grandchildren to play with. But I also don’t plan to leave this earth in perfect, pristine condition. I want to use what I have been given.”
While there are plenty of reasons from which to choose, Melinda’s answer in the midst of exhaustion that night is a lot more personal. “In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about my two boys. I hope they believe that if their mom can complete these kinds of challenges, that they can also achieve whatever goals they set for themselves.” It seems that lesson has been sinking in over the years. Melinda’s older son, Zach, joined the U.S. Navy after college, completed the intense training as required in dive school, and works as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. Her younger son, Travis, is working his way through college with plans of building a career in law enforcement. “I always want to leave a place better than I found it, and I hope that my legacy is that I have helped raise two great men. By far, they are my proudest accomplishments.”
Extreme. Crazy. Impossible. Those words are all quite relative, aren’t they? It makes sense that the more you accomplish, the more you are driven to achieve, pushing the limit step by step, and as Melinda Krueger believes, pushing it just a little bit further. “Whatever it is you want to accomplish, you can make happen. Even if Plan A doesn’t work, and Plan B falls through, you can still figure it out. There are no limits if you refuse to give up.”