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(Enlarge) Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Clay Anderson crosses the finish line with his sister, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Ackenhausen, at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail run in September 2010, inspiring the siblings to form "185 for Heroes," an annual fundraising event for wounded warriors. (Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Ackenhausen)

After running a marathon every day for one week, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Clay Anderson crossed the finish line with Achilles tendonitis in both feet, while his sister, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Ackenhausen, crossed with five stress fractures.

The exhausted siblings turned to each other and fell into a long hug. Little did they know, their journey was just beginning.

The run of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail -- from Cumberland to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in September 2010 -- inspired the pair to form "185 for Heroes," an annual fundraising event for wounded warriors.

The next 185 for Heroes run will take place Sept. 2 to 8.

"When we decided to run the Chesapeake and Ohio trail, we were just looking to do a long challenge together," said Anderson, who serves with Navy Information Operations Command Maryland. "The plan was to run the 185 miles in seven days -- a marathon a day. We had planned on recruiting a small bike team to follow us with camping, food and medical supplies and then we began working on the bigger logistics. Then it hit us. What is seemingly crazy to some, could end up being very beneficial to someone else.

"Immediately I thought about raising money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project," Anderson said.

The siblings didn't just want to raise funds for the warrior project; they also wanted to raise awareness. So they decided to dedicate each day of the run to a wounded warrior.

They also decided they would honor the warriors with a ceremony at the completion of the run on Sept. 11, 2010.

Anderson and his sisters trained more than seven months, logging about 2,200 miles. At the height of their training, they would run as much as 100 miles in a week in 20 hours.

"I was buying new running shoes every month," Anderson said.

Anderson and Ackenhausen planned their trip meticulously, breaking up their days in three segments of nine miles. They also planned their ending points around hiker/biker camp sites for each night.

"When we crossed that finish line and broke the tape, it was surreal," Anderson said. "It was one of those profound moments and one of the proudest of my life. I can't put into words the emotion. Everything we had trained for and went through, the reason we were doing it, what it was all for, it all came to the surface in that final moment. I looked at my sister and we just hugged each other."

Ackenhausen, an instructor at the Center for Information Dominance in San Diego, called the event "one of the best moments of my life."

During the ceremony held after the run, the wounded warriors were presented encased flags that had been flown over the Pentagon in their honor. More than $6,600 had been raised for the Wounded Warrior Project.

That's when Anderson began thinking outside the box.

"What if it wasn't my sister and I next year, but two totally different people? We could coordinate everything for another team," Anderson said.

The following year, two brothers took on the challenge. They finished the race despite rain the entire week, a flooded running trail and a knee injury that caused one of the runners to complete the last part on crutches.

"On Day 4 we were told that the rain had totally flooded the C&O trail," Anderson said. "When we told the men they weren't going to be able to finish, they wouldn't accept it. Their commitment was inspiring. We didn't have enough time to navigate another way to Georgetown, so we improvised."

Anderson contacted the closest gym they could find and explained the situation. The gym opened its doors and treadmills to the two runners. Over the next two days, the brothers logged 60 miles each on the treadmills.

That year, more than $15,000 was raised, bringing the total to $22,000. Again Anderson was humbled by the outpouring of support and by the people volunteering to run the following year.

"Right now, we have runners up to 2014," he said. "We've also put together a nine-member board of directors. We meet monthly and have decided to keep this thing going."

The committee also has decided to add something new this year - virtual teams.

"Essentially, we want people all over to be able to be able to complete this challenge and raise money for Operation Second Chance," Anderson said. "The team will sign up and will run during the same week the official event is going on. The only differences are that it doesn't matter how many people are on the team, and the entire team does not have to complete the 185 miles. It can be a collective number.

"The teams will also be given their own fundraising page. This will allow people all over the world to participate in the event."

Anderson said his long-term plan for 185 for Heroes is to take it cross-country.

"It would start in San Diego and end in D.C.," he said. "Each participant would run a complete marathon, and we would try to incorporate capable vets throughout the world."

More than time, the team has passion.

"I believe in order to do something great, you need to align it with your passions," Anderson said. "I'm able to truly make a difference doing something I love. That's my reward."

For more information, visit www.185forheroes.org.

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