by Carrie Adams
Rounding down the hill to the Super Spartan Mid-Atlantic sandbag carry with the Team X-T.R.E.M.E. crew, eleven year old Junior Marine Luke Sliwinski was offered the option to take one of the the lighter 20lb bags in lieu of the men’s 40lb bags that were stacked in piles at the base of a quarter mile loop over halfway through the 10.5 mile course. He immediately declined the offer with a polite, “No, thank you.” And without another word stooped down, his slim build struggling slightly under the weight, hoisted the bag up to his shoulder, and kept moving forward.
When Luke Sliwinski was five years old, he drew a picture of the twin
towers ablaze, an image all too painful and familiar from the morning of September 11, 2001. Too young to remember it in person, he’d grown up seeing the images and as he drew in the details, he knew that all he wanted was to be a Marine. At that same tender age of five, he saw an air show demonstration from Marines at a nearby airfield, and was even more determined to join the service. His mother, Heather, had to explain to the young Sliwinski that he’d have to wait until age eight before he could join the next closest thing – the Junior Marines Program.
According to their website, “The Young Marines is a youth education and service program for boys and girls, ages 8 through completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral, and physical development of its members. The program focuses on character building, leadership, and promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.”
Luke, the youngest of six waited, however impatiently, until he could enlist and the now eleven year old who is about to enter sixth grade holds the rank of Sergeant and calls the Young Marines in his unit brothers. “I am the person I am today because of them.” And that person is the youngest Spartans to take on our VA Super Spartan course alongside Team X-T.R.E.M.E. last Saturday, August 25th at Morven Park. He toiled with the team for the 5.5 hours it took to complete finishing every obstacle and taking every step of the 10.5 miles course. Says his mother Heather, “The accomplishment on Saturday blew me away.” But her pride extends far beyond the Spartan course. She goes on to say, “I am most proud of him humbleness through all of this. He’s the kind of kid that stands up for what is right, even if he’s the only one standing.”
Luke was first introduced to Team X-T.R.E.M.E. and their mission in 2010 when he met USMC Cpl. Todd Love at Walter Reed Medical Center in Ward 57. Cpl. Love, who also completed the Spartan Race on Saturday, was newly injured having lost both his legs above the knee and his left arm below the elbow in a violent IED explosion in Afghanistan.
Heather Sliwinski recounts the moment that Luke first saw Todd, “Even as a case worker for injured soldiers for six years, to see him that soon after injury took my breath away. Luke didn’t see it, he just saw a hero. He climbed right up onto the bed with him and started talking.” That first meeting was an encounter that would turn into a lasting friendship. ”They call each other brothers,” says Heather. And what kind of Marine does Sliwinski want to become? ”A Recon, just like Todd.”
And Luke has not only spent the last seven years visiting wounded veterans at Walter Reed, he’s been raising money for them – nearly $10,000 worth. And he’s not done. ”I just want to do more.” His appearance at the Spartan Race he hopes can draw attention to not only the team he loves, Team X-T.R.E.M.E. but to the work of Operation Ward 57 an organization he is closely connected to personally. Known as “the amputee ward”, the orthopedic Ward 57 at WRAMC houses some of the most severely injured patients for weeks or even months and is a place that Sliwinski and his family have spent a great deal of time. His plan until he’s old enough to join is to keep educating kids, raising money, and ultimately joining the Marines when he graduates high school.
Team X-T.R.E.M.E. member Todd Love says of Luke, “Luke has been with me since the beginning of my recovery. He is one of heroes, and we stay in touch with each other. I see him as a little brother but he full of what this country needs more of.”
When asked about how he feels about his heroes of Team X he said, “They are the most amazing people. What they do, how they treat people. They just keep fighting, even injured… Freedom isn’t free.” And of his sandbag carry in Virginia he admits it was his biggest test of the day, the toughest obstacle for him to complete. ”If they could do it, I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to take the easy way out.”
To find out more about the Young Marines Program, click HERE.
To find out more about Operation Ward 57, click HERE.