SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Grace Tinkey has been an avid runner since she joined her father, David, and his running club in Macon, Georgia, when she was a 6th grader.
What began as something she and her dad could do together quickly turned into a love affair between the now 27-year-old, strong-willed athlete and the ground-pounding rigors of putting one foot in front of the other, accepting and beating any challenge along the way. That includes the 47th running of the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 30, 2022.
This challenge, though, was personal. Her race against the clock toward the finish line was for a personal friend – Sgt. Nicole L. Gee. The 23-year-old Marine sergeant was killed Aug. 26, 2021, while providing security during evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. Tinkey was a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster and part of the historic airlift operations.
“We were on the ground the day Nicole and 12 others were killed by the vehicle IED,” she said. “All I can say is that the shock and pain we all felt was a feeling that drives me in my ‘why’ and keeps pushing me forward because this is real. What we do could lead to that, but we will never stop fighting for each other, for what’s right, and moving forward for them.
“We all raised our right hands to serve. We all raised our hands to pay the ultimate sacrifice.”
Tinkey, who received her commission as a second lieutenant in June 2022 and is now awaiting pilot training to being at the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, finished her second career marathon in fine form with a time of 3:08:12, taking 6th place among all female military members, 11th out of all females in the 25-29-year-old division, and 24th our almost 4,700 female runners.
Her overall finish among the entire field of 11,271 was 239 with an average pace of 7:11 minutes per mile.
Tinkey fully expected there to be some pain with running 26.2 miles, including an all-uphill final mile of the run. A marathon, she said, is an humbling experience, especially when runners get to the 18-22 mile mark. That’s when fatigue starts to set end, legs are tired and mental exhaustion starts to attack runners.
That’s also when the fun begins, she said. It’s also when she remembers her “why.”
“For me, when you step to the line to run a race, you’re always pushing yourself to see how hard you can go and what the outcome will be. But this race meant so much more than that,” she said. “Yes, running a good time or pace is always a goal, but this one was about honoring the 13 we couldn’t bring home.”
Tinkey, the former member of the Team USA junior cross country team in 2014, said the MCM was also her favorite race because of the camaraderie between military service branches she experienced, whether it was the Air Force team she was part of and representing to all the sister services present. She likened a marathon to that of military service, where part of it is a grind, but the rest is an amazing journey of constantly working to get better, turning weaknesses into strengths.
She also likened being part of a diverse field of runners to the diverse nature of ENJJPT, the world’s premiere fighter pilot training program for NATO.
“Being here at ENJJPT is an opportunity that I couldn’t be more excited to be part of. To train, learn and fly alongside NATO students and instructors is something that is invaluable, especially when working together operationally,” she said. “To get better, you must surround yourself with people that have different backgrounds, languages and cultures because it allows you to learn from different perspectives, ways of training and learning, which make us all better students, pilots, wingmen and people in the end.”
Tinkey said her favorite part of the course was that grueling uphill portion, made special by the familiar red, white and blue of the American flag flapping in the breeze; Marines and others stood among them, cheering on runners as they passed. Then came the emotions of seeing the Marine Corps Memorial near Arlington Cemetery and finding her Air Force teammates and other military members.
“No matter what branch you serve, we all serve together. Although it might have a different name written on your chest, we couldn’t do what we do without one another,” she said. “Being able to be a part of the Air Force Team and, more importantly, the Armed Forces Team, because alone we can only do so much; together we can do so much more.”
For more results from the 47th MCM, visit www.marinemarathon.com/results.