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Military widow honors husband in Marine Corps Marathon run

By Bethany Crudele, CNN
Salina Jimenez completes the 35th Marine Corps Marathon in honor of her husband, Sgt. David Jimenez Almazan.
Salina Jimenez completes the 35th Marine Corps Marathon in honor of her husband, Sgt. David Jimenez Almazan.
  • Widow runs marathons to remember fallen medic
  • Sgt. David Jimenez Almazan became U.S. citizen after death
  • Nearly 22,000 people finished popular Marine Corps Marathon

Arlington, Va. (CNN) -- For some athletes, running the Marine Corps Marathon is about the exhilaration of running 26.2 miles, pushing through one's physical limits and the thrill of taking those first steps past the finish line. It requires months of dedicated training and grueling discipline.

But for other runners, like Salina Jimenez, it's about something larger than herself.

Jimenez laced up her sneakers Sunday to pay tribute to her late husband, Army Sgt. David Jimenez Almazan, a combat medic from Van Nuys, California.

Almazan was killed in 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq just three weeks after his deployment. He was 27.

Jimenez, a Huntington Beach, California resident who has run two other marathons, says she runs to keep the memory of her husband alive.

"Every mile is a memory," Jimenez said. "He once said that life is about the memories, so every mile creates a new memory that we're able to share and experience with other runners."

Almazan, a native of Mexico, was granted American citizenship posthumously.

As she prepared for the race, Jimenez wanted people to remember her husband for the man that he was. In addition to loving soccer and salsa dancing, Almazan also loved the country he died for, she said.

Jimenez ran as a member of a team fielded by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a group that supports surviving family members of loved ones lost in combat. This year, 265 runners ran for TAPS' "Run and Remember Team."

Like many of her teammates, Jimenez ran with a photo of her husband pinned to the lapel of her jersey, one that she carries for every race.

Video: Military widow honors husband
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • Marathons
  • California
  • Iraq

"I keep it close to my heart," she says, "David was an amazing man. He was a medic, so he cared about people. He would take the shirt off his back for you even if you were a stranger and that's what motivates me to get out there and pound pavement."

Minutes before Jimenez approached the starting line, she shared her angst about the course, which ends with a final hill up to the finish line near the Iwo Jima Memorial. It's considered the final challenge of the runner's journey.

Some 8,597 current and former military personnel participated in the 35th Marine Corps marathon, which took athletes through Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. Nearly 22,000 total runners finished the event.

Security was heightened for Sunday's race due to recent shots fired by an unknown gunman or gunmen at various Marine Corps military sites.

In the final leg of the race, Jimenez said she thought about the day she found out her husband was killed. At mile 25, with little strength left, she said she got a rush of energy before making her final quest up the hill. "It was like he was right there. I could hear him saying, 'Are you done yet? Hurry up!'"

Like most runners, she admitted to she doubts as she approached the last few miles: "I said, 'I don't know if I can do this, David. I love you.'"

But the hill signified much more. "It's the journey, it's the climb, it's equivalent to the journey we're on, the grief journey."

Jimenez says she'll definitely be back for next year's marathon, which offers no prize money and is dubbed the "People's Marathon."

"Even though that day took away something special, he lives in all these miles," she said afterward. "It was phenomenal."