How the NYC Marathon gave a former Navy SEAL the chance to bond with his daughter

·4 min read
Summer Lena and her father, Anthony. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Lena)
Summer Lena and her father, Anthony. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Lena)

You know those families that run 5Ks on Thanksgiving? Well that’s Summer Lena and her family. 

“My dad didn't really get involved until probably high school because he was gone a lot, but I think running was his way of bonding with us,” Lena said. “So whenever he asks us to do a 5K or 10K or whatever, we're always down to do it.”

Summer’s dad, Anthony, is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL. Anthony served in the Navy for 27 years on the SEAL teams and amassed 22 deployments during his military career. For his actions in service he was awarded the Silver Star, a Purple Heart and seven Bronze Star medals with Combat Valor. During his impressive career, Anthony wasn’t around his family as much as he would have liked, but he gives credit to his wife for raising their “phenomenal kids.”

Summer said while her dad was away on deployment or away training, her mom kept her and her siblings busy during the day by putting all the kids in sports.

“It was awesome because basically I would go to school then after school, I would do sports, like literally until nighttime,” Summer said. “I liked to stay busy. I feel like I've always had a pretty athletic background. And then when I got to college, I cheered the whole time, which was really great because I got to travel the entire time for that and see different things, and see different schools.”

Anthony also credits the Navy SEAL Foundation (NSF) for taking care of his family while he was away, and the foundation helped Anthony and his family even further when he suffered a significant blast injury to the head on another deployment in 2007. NSF gave Anthony the opportunity to not only do some work with the foundation but also do the necessary brain treatment he needed to recover.

Anthony Lena has bonded with his daughter, Summer. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Lena)
Anthony Lena has bonded with his daughter, Summer. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Lena)

Now that Anthony has retired from service, he felt indebted to his family for being supportive of his career and he knew it was time to find his purpose and bond with his family in any way he could. One of those ways was running.

Through the foundation, Anthony ran his first marathon in 2017 when he raced in the Boston Marathon. And when Carolyn Petschler with the Navy SEAL Foundation came to Anthony about running the New York City Marathon for the foundation, he knew this was the perfect opportunity to get his family involved.

The New York City Marathon’s 26.2-miles course — which is also the marathon’s 50th run — wound through the five boroughs of New York. Anthony asked his daughter if she wanted to run the marathon with him and she was stunned because she had never done a run that strenuous before.

“I just saw this as an opportunity to kind of once again, build that void and give her a chance to survive,” Anthony said. “And because it will be survival for her, but along the way I could teach her strategies for really looking at the marathon in a different way because it's a huge feat. So I can take my experiences in SEAL teams and I can coach her through that mental aspect of it.”

The training for Summer was different because they normally prepared for a run together, but since Summer recently moved to Arizona after she graduated college, she had to train by herself, which presented some challenges.

“I know she's going to finish it,” Anthony said. “But I want it to be a positive, mental strength-building event for her. That's what's important to me, but I think she has all the strategies to do it.”

Summer’s uncle also ran the marathon with her and her dad. She knows they will finish ahead of her, but she’s expecting her dad to walk back and walk across the finish line with her.

“He just really wants to finish with me,” Summer said. “We haven't even talked about that, but I just know he's going to do that because he's just very supportive and he knows that I'm going to need that little extra encouragement towards the end. But I'm super excited and this experience has been great.”

Emilee White is the editorial and marketing manager for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.

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