What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, I was looking forward to participating in one of my favorite charity events and one of the best road races in the country, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Run. Today, I'm thinking I'll probably get in a good workout on Sunday, April 11. But it won't be along the Potomac with 15,000 other runners amid Washington's blossoming cherry trees.
Instead, I'll probably recreate my own version of the Cherry Blossom Run in a location devoid of the blossoms' aroma and the springtime activities one observes along the scenic 10-mile route. This year, my spring run will be more about exercise than fundraising and the course will be flat and sandy. It will probably be about 80 degrees, and I'll likely be running into a 15-mile-per-hour head wind.
Iraq is that way this time of year. I've been serving here for about six months now as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. I'm a senior combat adviser, assisting the Iraqi Army on operations and training. With 19 years of service, I am ready and willing to go where duty calls.
Admittedly, I will miss being part of this weekend's festivities in Washington and the camaraderie of friends who compete with me in this very worthwhile event. It's also hard to beat the energy and excitement that any race brings with so many runners, volunteers and cheering spectators, especially an event like this where strong legs benefit so many children around the country.
The Cherry Blossom Run makes me proud, similar to the way I feel about serving my country. The fact that credit unions are behind an event that benefits the Children's Miracle Network children's hospitals makes me proud to be a part of the credit union movement and proud to work for CUNA Mutual, one of this event's national sponsors.
In the nine years credit unions have sponsored this run, they and their business partners have donated more than $4 million to CMN hospitals nationwide. Last year, the race raised more than $1 million for the 170 CMN hospitals that treat more than 17 million children annually in North America.
Because credit union people are by nature generous and helpful to philanthropic causes, there could not be a better sponsor or charity for this run to benefit. One of our core principles is our cooperative nature. That ability to cooperate and recognize that by working together we can serve a greater purpose has made credit unions what they are today.
Unlike many of our for-profit competitors, when credit unions from all across the country come together to support an organization like Children's Miracle Network, it is not about any individual credit union. Instead, it is about helping families in need and showing people that we operate with a different agenda. We are here to help people. This event is another opportunity to truly exemplify the credit union difference.
Anytime we have the opportunity to show credit unions are caring organizations designed to help people help themselves, it will only benefit our image. We have always struggled, as a movement, to educate people on our difference. We have the opportunity through this nationally recognized event to get that message out, and we should be telling our story as loud as possible to get more people to subscribe to our people first methodology of doing business.
If I could offer one thought to credit unions not fundraising or participating in next Sunday's event in Washington, it would be to do so next year. There are plenty of ways to raise money for CMN and to participate in the run that will benefit the movement nationally and your credit union locally. Remember, all funds raised locally go to the CMN hospital that serves your community.
As I think about the start of Sunday's run more than 6,000 miles from the starting line, I'd like to thank all those credit union people who are running, volunteering or contributing in some other way. For those of you who aren't, I ask that you consider a role next year. It's good for the kids, your credit union and our future.
Lt. Col. Thomas Heyden is currently serving as a senior combat adviser in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves. A 19-year veteran of the reserves, when not serving his country, he is a senior sales executive with CUNA Mutual Group.