Some road races are kicked off with an air horn, or maybe a small gun.
Others begin with a cannon blast.
At the “Storm the Bay” races — which brought more than 200 racers Saturday to Ocean View — the 5-kilometer and 10K road races began to the sound of a howitzer.
Donald Fuss, 73, a military veteran from Ocean View, was tapped to fire the cannon to start the first race, assisted by a crew from the Army National Guard’s First Battalion, 111th Field Artillery in Norfolk.
The big gun pointed from Pretty Lake Avenue to a nearby marina. To be clear, of course, the cannon was only firing blanks.
“I just pulled a very small lever,” Fuss said. “I knew about (the howitzer), but never fired one before.”
He worked on the aviation side in the Navy, launching and recovering planes from aircraft carriers, “and I didn’t have to do too much with guns.”
Fuss enlisted in 1968, did four tours of duty on the aircraft carrier USS America during the Vietnam War, then served on several others in a 21-year career.
Kirk Kellerhalls, 53, the event’s chief organizer, said he asked Fuss — active in local Veterans of Foreign Wars circles — to find a veteran to honor Saturday. But everyone Fuss asked was out of town or unavailable.
“So I just asked him, ‘Well, what’s your story?’” Kellerhalls said. “Then he told me the stories, and I said ‘I don’t need to be looking. Based on your service and your combat record, you’re our guy.’”
And Fuss, he said, was humble about it all.
It was cool and sunny and clear, a perfect day for running, even as high winds scuttled plans to have skydivers — carrying American and Gold Star Family flags — descend on the beach.
Still, an acapella group from Regent University sang the national anthem, followed by a presentation of the American flag to Fuss by a Marine Corps color guard from Little Creek. Kellerhalls said Navy SEALS had flown the flag from an operations base in North Africa, and it was flown home by way of a Reaper drone.
Avi Kelley, who is on the board of directors for the Tidewater Striders running group and separately runs the Run757 social media pages, fired a second shot from the howitzer an hour later to kick off the 10K race.
“He was the ambassador who helped keep the running community cohesive and motivated during the COVID lockdowns,” Kellerhalls explained.
Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Brian Burnham, of Poquoson, had two tasks Saturday. He not only helped organize a contingent of soldiers who helmed the howitzer, but also ran in the 5K race.
Burnham signed up for the “obstacle course” option, which featured a push-up station, a bear crawl, a crab crawl and a “sugar coat” — going in the Chesapeake Bay, getting wet, then rolling around in the sand — and several other challenges.
“Coming out and showing the community what we do, and to be able to support the community events, is one of the unwritten missions of the Guard,” Burnham said.
Kellerhalls got his start in running about 18 years ago, when a friend visited him in Tennessee and ran in the Country Music Marathon. That friend, Arnat Vale, said running helped him beat depression following a divorce.
“Running was like my Prozac,” Vale said. “It helped me get better and better.”
Vale, who hasn’t been running lately because of injuries, drove from Baltimore to help Kellerhalls run Saturday’s event. But after watching all the excitement, he vowed, “I gotta get back” to running.
Kellerhalls, who now runs audio-visuals for the City of Virginia Beach, moved to Ocean View about four years ago. The idea for the event took shape when he realized there weren’t many Hampton Roads events with varied courses.
“We got a paved road for the first mile, and then you’re on the beach, and then an obstacle course in the sand and in the water,” Kellerhalls said.
All the proceeds, he said, will go to an organization he founded, the SEAcoast2Coast Foundation, which raises money for active-duty military or veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
© 2022 The Virginian-Pilot
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC