OTISCO TOWNSHIP — With each heavy, emotional step taken Monday, two young men came closer to reaching an important goal.
Running along M-57 east of Greenville, as each foot struck the pavement, with beads of sweat running like a steady stream of water down the faces of Levi Curler and Joshua Willingham as they traveled mile after mile in the scorching summer sun, the two men kept one thing in mind.
“He would do it for us,” they’d say to themselves. “He’d go one step further.”
It was a run unlike any other for the two members of the United States Air Force, with Curler currently stationed in Spokane, Wash., and Willingham in Clovis, N.M.
The two friends grew up together, went to preschool together, and decided to join the Air Force together after graduating from Belding High School, and though they now are separated by thousands of miles, they once again came together Monday back in their hometown to run 28.3 miles for the same reason — to do it for John.
John Curler, 55, Levi’s father, was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2012.
The cancer began in John Curler’s lungs and has since metastasized to his bones and developed to stage 4 cancer in both areas. It has recently spread to his kidneys.
With both Levi and Joshua living across the country and on active duty, the visits to see John have been few and far between, but on Monday they ran together for six and a half hours to help bring awareness and raise money for Levi’s father.
“We wanted to raise awareness and money for my dad’s medical expenses,” Levi Curler said. “It’s really tough being so far away, what can we do? We have neighbors and friends who stop by and and help as much as they can, but we’re not allowed to go home all the time.”
John Curler knew how difficult it was for the two men to come home, let alone at the same time, and though it isn’t easy for him to leave the small comfort of home, he was able to exit from his van at the end of Bradley Street to greet his son and Joshua as they finished their tiresome journey.
As they finished, John exited the vehicle, hiding his tears with a tissue, and gave every ounce of energy he had into hugging both of them.
“It’s called pride,” John said through more tears as he collected himself. “They are American soldiers, they are good kids and they are my boys. They did this for me, they got it done.”
Upon finishing, the two men could finally take a moment to reflect on their achievement.
“We went a little further than a marathon, because my dad has always gone a little further.” Levi Curler said.
According to Levi Curler, the two men have been fundraising and training for several months, hoping to raise enough money to aid with John’s medical bills as well as construct him a wheelchair ramp at his home.
Levi Curler said after Monday’s run, that the community came through in their donations.
“I just want to say a huge thank you to the community,” he said. “The community has brought my dad dinners, given him rides, you name it. They’ve all stepped up to the plate with so many donations, it’s been awesome.”
For Willingham, seeing John Curler again and being able to help in raising donations for him was a small way of giving back to the man who has been there throughout his life as well.
“I’ve known John for so long, he’s been another dad to me, giving me so many life lessons,” Willingham said. “He’s smacked me around a few times when I’ve needed it. When Levi asked me to help out, I was all over the idea. John would do it for anybody else.”
Neither Levi or Joshua had ran a distance of more than 16 miles previously, but neither of them complained of the heat, distance or exhaustion that occurred while running.
The two were followed closely by Levi Curler’s wife, Hannah Curler, and cousin, Tyler Curler, who provided water and bananas from their car.
“We definitely could not have done this without our road team and all of the ladies making signs,” Levi Curler said. “They drove behind us for more than six hours. We would not have made it without them. They were on top of us every 20 minutes, getting us water, Powerade and bananas. “
For Deb Curler, John Curler’s wife, watching her son and Willingham cross the finish line and seeing her husband smile was a rewarding experience.
“It’s just remarkable,” she said. “They’ve come so far from where they are stationed. It’s done so much for John’s spirit, it means a lot.”
According to Deb Curler, her husband wouldn’t be in such high spirits if it weren’t for the community as well.
“He’s maintaining, and that’s about it,” she said. “The doctors are trying to give him a little more time to make memories like this. That’s what helps us put a foot forward each day, knowing that people have our backs. The whole support of the community has just been amazing. Being in a small town, it can be good.”
The Curler family asks that any additional donations to the family be delivered to either the main office at Richardson Mill Apartments in Belding or at the Scizzor Shak in the Covered Village Mall in Belding.
When looking back, Willingham hopes that people just continue to acknowledge John Curler for the man he is, and how much of a difference he made in people’s lives.
“He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, you better pay attention, because it’s probably something you’re going to need to remember for later on,” he said.