Run and Remember: A Special Connection

Author: Bob Derga and Lisa Arnold

Each year the TAPS Run and Remember Team pairs willing runners with families of the fallen whose loved ones will be commemorated by the run. As our largest running event of the year, the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in October fields the most runners and therefore makes the most connections between families and runners. 

Derga Portrait

Last year Lisa Arnold, a mother of five young boys, ran the MCM in honor of Marine Corporal Dustin Derga who was killed in action in Iraq. Dustin was the first of 23 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed during Lima Company 3/25's 2005 deployment. Dustin's father Bob and stepmother Marla Derga began an email correspondence with Lisa prior to the marathon, and Lisa gave Bob the honor of designing her TAPS contribution page, allowing him to share the story of Dustin's life and his pride of service.

Lisa Arnold:

I have wanted to run the MCM for years now and really felt that if I ever got the opportunity, I wanted to run it for a military charity as a way to give back to those who serve. While looking at the registration page for the MCM, I came across the TAPS website and instantly knew that was the charity I wanted to run for. I was impressed with the mission and signed up to be a TAPS runner right then!

Bob Derga:

We posted pictures of Dustin [on Lisa’s fundraising contribution page]. This was healing for us and also allowed us to share Dustin's story with a wide audience. We worked together in helping raise funds for TAPS in honor of Dustin, and together we far exceeded Lisa's goal. That collaboration started a friendship between our families that has given all of us so much in return.  

Derga Memorbila

Lisa Arnold:

The Dergas were amazing in their support of the run, from raising pledges to being my biggest cheerleaders. They sent me a DVD with photos of Dustin on it—photos from the time he was a young boy to his days in Iraq. It enabled me to really have a connection with him as a person. In the same package was a Hero's Bracelet with Dustin's information on it. I wore it every single day during my training. Also in the package, wrapped in tissue paper, were Dustin's dog tags. I can't really put into words how I felt holding those tags in my hands for the first time. His dad had asked me if I would wear them during the race and it was the greatest honor I have had in my life. To be trusted with something so precious and so sacred was overwhelming.

Bob Derga:

In July of 2011, Marla emailed Lisa to express her admiration of Lisa's efforts. She told Lisa then that she had always wanted to run the MCM herself, but felt she was too old and out of shape to do so. Lisa immediately emailed back and encouraged Marla to begin training. Lisa was so enthusiastic that Marla had to try! So she bought a good pair of running shoes and began training. Slowly but surely, with Lisa's help and encouragement, Marla began seeing her fitness improve.

Lisa Arnold:

The 2011 MCM was physically a very difficult marathon for me but I truly felt Dustin's spirit there with me every step of the way. I was terrified of losing his tags and so I also had them pinned to my singlet. When the run got really hard, I would touch the tags and ask Dustin to help keep me going. I realized after the run, that the tags were pinned over my left chest…over my heart! It was completely unplanned that way, but that is exactly where they belonged. 

Bob Derga:

Unfortunately we could not be in Washington DC for Lisa's run as we were in San Francisco that weekend. That didn't matter. We were with her in spirit and felt that we were part of the run. We exchanged phone calls and e-mails that weekend leading right up to her run. We were overjoyed when we spoke to Lisa by phone just as she finished the marathon and we were boarding the plane to come home. Lisa had done it—run the entire marathon to honor Dustin.

Lisa Arnold:

My family and I met up with Dustin's parents a few weeks after the MCM so that I could return Dustin’s dog tags to them. I also wanted to give them my medal from the event. It was an emotional meeting… Bob and Marla shared stories and more pictures of Dustin. It helped all of us to get to know him better.

Bob Derga:

Our first face-to- face meeting took place in November 2011 at a restaurant half way between our homes in Ohio. Marla and I were so nervous to finally meet Lisa, this angel who came into our lives. Her entire family of five boys and her husband were there, and each of the boys wore Marine Corps Marathon shirts. Lisa returned Dustin's dog tags that night, and also gave us something else that will be always treasured: her 2011 MCM Finishers Medal. 

Lisa Arnold:

Marla has decided to run the 2012 MCM! We have already run a few races together and will run together every step of the way along the 2012 MCM course for TAPS.

Bob Derga:

Lisa suggested forming “Team Lima” for TAPS and we began trying to find runners for each of the 23 fallen from Lima Company. We still need a few more runners but we are pulling our team together.

Lisa Arnold:

The MCM was one of the best things I have ever done. The TAPS families have made the ultimate sacrifice and have asked for nothing in return. Running for TAPS is a very small way for me to say thank you to them for their sacrifice. It is so important that these families know that we, as a country, remember their fallen hero, that their life and sacrifice will never be forgotten, and that we are grateful. Running for TAPS has also evolved into a way to teach my boys about honor and sacrifice. They have taken Dustin on as “their” soldier, and through developing a relationship with the Dergas, they have really started to understand what a huge sacrifice it is to be in the military. What started off as just doing a run for a great cause has turned into so much more.

Bob Derga:

The effect of meeting Lisa has been outstanding. Marla loves running and working toward her goal of running the MCM. The effort has brought her more health and vitality and brought her closer to understanding some of the hard effort that goes into building a Marine through physical training. Marla is now running an average of 15 miles a week outside, and says she often imagines Dustin and the other Lima Marines running with her as she pounds out the miles. God willing and with Lisa's help we will all cross the finish line together as Team Lima!

Lisa Arnold:

I have gotten so much more than I ever could have imagined from being a TAPS runner. Being paired with the Dergas has been a huge blessing.

Bob Derga:

The fact that people you do not even know would take the time and effort to run in honor of your fallen loved one means so much. Having gone through the last year of training herself, Marla knows firsthand how much time and effort that really does take. The people who run the MCM for our fallen are amazing! They keep the spirit of our fallen loved one's pride of service moving forward as they run the MCM in their memory. 

If you would like a TAPS runner to honor your fallen loved one in a Run and Remember event, please email us at teamtaps@taps.org