They would run night and day to honor independent Poland – a very special relay race by soldiers and employees of the Territorial Defense Force, who ran 1,100 km along the Queen of Polish Rivers – the Vistula River.
“The idea to run the Memorial Relay Race along the Vistula River was born in the Ministry of National Defense. Under-Secretary of State, Marek Łapiński told me about it”, said MajGen Wiesław Kukuła, Commander of the Territorial Defense Force (TDF). “I liked it, but I wasn’t sure there would be any volunteers”. As it turned out, he needed not to fear that: initial number of runners was 50, but ultimately – over 130 TDF soldiers from all over the country took part in the run.
Among them were the representatives of all TDF brigades. “I decided to take part to honor the memory of those who fought for our freedom. We did it for those who fought for us, so we could be running today”, said LCpl Paweł Maciąg of 13th Silesian Territorial Defense Brigade. Pvt Michał Jurasz of the 3rd Subcarpathian Territorial Defense Brigade confirmed his words, as he himself decided to take part in this special race without hesitation. “I’ve been running for several years now, so this way of honoring the anniversary of regaining independence in Poland was quite obvious to me”, he emphasized.
The runners were divided into two teams. On August 11, the runners from Źródło Team (Polish for “River Source”) started near the Czerniańskie Lake – 78 runners were to run 620 km for no longer than 73 hours. A day later, in Mikoszewo, the second group of 54 – Ujście Team (Polish for “River Mouth”) started their 480-km race for no longer than 56 hours. The idea was to always keep two runners from each team on the run, both day and night. They would change every 10 km, taking over the TDF flag from a team partner. The race was supervised by pilots on bicycles, and at the points of danger, the Police was there to ensure security.
Was the participation in the race a challenge for soldiers? “I took the first 10 km at 4 a.m, and it was quite comfortable – the air was so fresh. My second run was at 4 p.m., and it was not that nice anymore, but I did it”, said Pvt Mateusz Ziomek of the 1st Podlachian Territorial Defense Brigade. Cpl Maciąg also had to run twice: “It was not a long run, but the speed was killing. There were some inconveniences, such as the lay of the land, but let’s be honest: for a soldier, this is not a problem”.
The entire race distance was 1,100 km, and it would go through towns, villages and countryside. No wonder the locals would cheer on the runners along the way. “We saw many positive reactions, particularly from older people who were cheering up, and clapping their hands”, Pvt Ziomek recalls. “That was really nice, almost like we would not be running alone”, ads Pvt Jurasz. “Sometimes, especially at night, we saw some wild animals, for example roe-deer, which was something like added value to that race”, he says.
What is interesting, other runners, who simply wanted to express their support for this initiative, joined the race. Among them were local administration officials, TDF brigade commanders, but also… Secretary of State, Tomasz Zdzikot. He joined the teams in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, and ran to Warsaw. „It is a special way to celebrate 100 years of Polish independence. There are many official celebrations, but there is only one such race. Running is one of my passions, so I liked the idea very much, I couldn’t not be here”, he said. “The race itself was very pleasant, speed was ok, so I could easily talk to soldiers. They even talked me into the participation in Bieg Terytorialsa”.
On August 14, a day before the Polish Armed Forces Day, all runners met in Warsaw at the PGE Narodowy Arena. They ran together those last kilometers, and in their white and red t-shirts all came to the Monument to the Polish Underground State and Home Army. “I would like to thank you for the way you decided to celebrate a 100 years of Poland’s independence. Thank you for ending your race right here, in front of this monument, and for inviting us, veterans, because it means you appreciate our past. We, in turn, appreciate what you do”, said Leszek Żukowski, President of the World Association of Home Army Soldiers. “Please, accept my congratulations for the way you celebrated the Polish Armed Forces Day in the year of the 100th anniversary of regaining independence by Poland”, said Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak, decorating the runners with occasional medals. He also added that he had decided to officially mark the day of September 27 as the Territorial Defense Force Day. General Kukuła was very proud of his soldiers: “This relay race is the way to express our respect towards all Polish patriots whom we should thank for living in a free country. We wanted to show that the soldiers of today’s Polish Army also have the will to fight and win. You proved it”. He also announced that there would be another editions of the race, perhaps even on the occasion of the Independence Day on November 11. “I would like to make it to another level – in the next Memorial Relay Race, even more soldiers will run, and they will all be wearing uniforms. Including myself”, he ensured.
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz