Former Chandler man plans grueling fundraiser The Chandler Arizonan

Former Chandler man plans grueling fundraiser

December 15th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Former Chandler man plans grueling fundraiser
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ARIZONAN NEWS STAFF

To a couch potato, Keith Eckert may seem like a glutton for punishment.

The former Chandler resident and 2009 Hamilton High grad has run two 200-mile races where one was 243 miles; four 100-mile races with one finished in 23 hours and 40 minutes; swam 16 miles, which took him nine hours; and has run another 350-mile marathon in the freezing temperatures of Alaska.

He doesn’t do it just for fun.

Rather, Eckert and three active Navy SEALS are doing this for the SEAL Future Foundation, which helps former SEALS transition to civilian life.

And for that cause, he is now training for another Alaskan run that is nearly three times longer than the one he ran earlier this year.

He’ll be running in the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000, the world’s longest running winter ultra-marathon that takes participants through the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness to the famed burled arch in Nome, where the famed dog sled race ends.

Participants have 30 days to finish 1,000 miles across some of the world’s most treacherous terrain and brutal conditions, where the weather quickly changes and slams participants from -50F to 35F temperatures, gale force winds, rain, blizzards, waist-deep snow, mud, glare ice and bright sunny skies – often in the same day.

Though he is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who joined the highly competitive process of becoming a SEAL, a training accident not only disqualified him but ended his Naval career after three years in 2017.

His parents, siblings and nephews all live in Chandler, Mesa and Gilbert and he stays in touch with numerous friends from his high school days, including Chandler Councilman Matt Orlando. Back when he attended Hamilton, Eckert was on the wrestling team.

He and his three SEAL friends have an ambitious goal for the Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000, which will be held next February.

Indeed, training seems as exhausting as the actual event, including leg-strengthening exercises and running a minimum 60 miles a week.

“The idea is to train only enough to where we do not injure ourself leading up to the race,” he said.

He puts his body through such a punishing pace because of his belief in the SEAL Future Foundation.

“It’s an outstanding organization that has personally helped a dear friend of mine and former Navy SEAL diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” Eckert said. “The right cause is one worth fighting and struggling for. This race will no doubt test our physical and mental fortitude. That is why we are doing it. Who knows, maybe we will inspire others to test their physical and mental limits.”

The group has expanded its mission to provide wellness, mental health and family well-being services.

“Initially our focus was on scholarships, jobs searches, placement and mentoring,” co-founder Jonathan Wilson says on the group’s website. “We were the destination to ensure SEALs a successful personal and professional transition, but we also wanted to help them live a life of purpose and fulfillment within their communities.”

Last year’s Alaskan marathon was grueling, Eckert said.

“The weather would drop to -50 at its lowest,” he recalled. “I would walk 35 miles a day dragging my 60-pound sled behind me. It took me 10 days to complete the 350 miles.

“The biggest challenge was keeping my drinking water from freezing and eating my frozen solid food. As soon as I finished, I wondered if completing 1000 miles in those conditions was possible, that is what is bringing me back to Alaska.”

He figures the 1,000-mile venture will take all 30 days allotted for competitors.

“What I will change from last year’s race is have a warmer sleeping bag,” he said. “My old sleeping bag was rated from -20 degrees, so sleeping in it at night was miserable. I will also change how I carried water. Not being able to drink much was terrible.”

Eckert is hoping his East Valley friends will help support him. To sign up as a donor: sealff.org/iditarod-trail-invitational.

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