The SAG wagon had already passed, sweeping up late stragglers who wouldn’t meet the Geico Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon deadline. But Cliff Walker, jogging in his full firefighter gear, would not stop trudging along.
“I don’t understand quit,” he said.
A Las Vegas police officer on a motorcycle pulled up. Police and first responders have each other’s back.
“We’re going to get you through this,” said the motorcycle officer.
Some 5 hours, 27 minutes, 17 seconds after the start of the marathon, Walker crossed the finish line, the race’s final finisher. The marathon’s first-place runner, Mike Wardian, wore an Elvis costume. Walker wore 60 pounds worth of firefighter gear.
One big difference.
Wardian just dressed as Elvis. Walker really is a firefighter. He works for the Federal Firefighters, San Diego. Lines he heard from along The Strip included, “That’s a nice costume. … Thank you very much for what you do. … Why are you doing that?”
Turns out there was a very good reason why Walker was running 26.2 miles, at night, lugging 60 pounds of equipment, with about 35,000 of his best friends. He’s 11 races into a quest to run one marathon a month, across a year, to raise money for fallen firefighters.
Walker turned 50 on Nov. 16. He lives in Huntington Beach, has run more than 20 marathons and doesn’t run away from challenges. He ran his first 26.2-miler, the Honolulu Marathon, in 1999, on one day’s notice. He was hanging with some friends, all serious runners, who had trained for the race.
“Why don’t you do it?” one of his buddies said.
“What the heck,” said Walker, known for his fitness. “I can do anything.”
He finished the race, but it wasn’t pretty.
“The 18th mile, I hit the wall,” he said. “I pretty much had to crawl to the finish line. I think I shed a couple of tears. I couldn’t get out of bed for a week.”
A father with three children, ages 15, 10 and a newborn, Walker lives life to its fullest. His mantra?
“I enjoy living life and not letting life live me,” he said.
Tackling tough challenges? There was running the Honolulu Marathon with no prep. He’s jumped out of planes to fight fires. He’s surfed big waves in Hawaii.
He’s knocked off four half-Ironman triathlons and pokes fun at himself for not yet finishing a full Ironman.
“I’ve got to let my training wheels go,” he joked.
Regarding his life-life-to-the-fullest attitude, Walker said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a rainy day. Or if all’s going to hell in a hand basket. I’m going to own it. I’m going to go ahead and enjoy myself.”