River deep, mountain high -- Italian cross country course proves no match for 100th SFS Airman

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Starting as he means to go on, just one day after in-processing RAF Mildenhall, 24-year-old Airman 1st Class Jon Porubsky placed first in the Team Mildenhall monthly 5K run.

He also took first place in the following two 5K runs, placed third in the half-marathon here in August, and became the assistant cross country coach for Lakenheath High School.

So, it's really no surprise that the 100th Security Forces Squadron athlete was chosen to be part of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe team - also representing the U.S. Air Force - at the Headquarters Allied Air Command Cross Country Championships at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Nov. 9, straight after the Nov. 6 to 8 training camp.

The American team competed against other air force teams from Europe, including England, Poland and Germany.

The 10K cross country championship course in Aviano went through trails, around mountains and, according to Airman Porubsky, had some cool - but dangerous - scenery.

"It was raining really hard, which made the course very muddy and slippery, and a lot of people were falling down and hurting themselves," he said.

"There were a couple of sharp turns that went around some cliffs that you could have easily fallen off and rolled down the side of a mountain. There were also a lot of hills and places you had to climb up and jump off, then run through some rivers - it was the real definition of a cross country course."

The runner said even though he did really well, he felt he could have gone even faster.

"Despite the course and the weather conditions, and how hard it was, I felt I stepped up for the team. One of our guys was hurt, so I had to push myself even harder. Before the race, I heard people saying it was probably going to be between us and the English and German teams.

"When I was running, I passed about four German guys - they were running pretty hard, and I had to really sprint to beat them at the end," said Airman Porubsky.

Airman Porubsky placed 5th in his team and 28th overall. Both pretty good results for someone who had never shown any interest in running when he was a kid.

"My parents made me run, starting when I was 12 years old," the Toms River, N.J., native said.

"I played baseball from when I was 5, until around 11 years old. My dad was a runner, and he decided it was time for me to start doing that instead. I hated it at first, and when I stayed with my grandparents for the summer, they made me run every day.

"But when I reached eighth grade, I started to enjoy running and got pretty good at it," Airman Porubsky said.

Though he does various kinds of running, including cross country and distance, he prefers mid-distance track, doing 400 and 800 meters.

Running five to 12 miles every day when not in training, and between eight to 15 miles each day when he is, the 100th SFS troop said he tends to stick to trails in the local area, and also runs by the river in Mildenhall when he gets a chance.

Most of the time he tends to run alone, as it's hard for him to find others who share his passion for running.

"It feels like I'm forcing myself, as I don't usually have anyone to train with," he said. "When I run with others, it feels like I'm part of a team again and makes the training much more worthwhile."

Airman Porubsky said when out running, he tends to just think about random things, "to keep my mind off how far I'm running, or how badly it hurts," he laughed.

He also listens to his MP3 player and sings along to the songs, using different genres of music to match his running patterns.

"If I'm doing lighter running, then it's punk rock; if it's harder running, then I'll listen to death metal."

Whichever music he has playing, it obviously works - his training paid off when he got selected to be on the team with Air Force-level runners, and the race turned out to be his most memorable to date.

"There was much more to it than just high school and college races - I was representing the Air Force and the USA," the 100th SFS member said. "I was competing against runners of a much higher caliber, and who are much more competitive athletes, than I have met before.

"It was such an awesome feeling knowing I got to compete with these guys and be a part of this experience. Competing against teams from different countries made it feel like such a prestigious event - it was almost like competing in the Olympics," he said. "Especially when during the warm-up before the race, I looked over and saw everyone wearing 'Team USA' jackets - I just thought, 'Wow, I'm really a part of this!'"

The eight-person USAFE team (Airman Porubsky was one of three on the team stationed in Europe; the other members were all from stateside bases) placed second overall to the Polish Air Force's cross country team.

The 100th SFS Airman said his commander, Lt. Col. Don Robertson, also a runner, has been very supportive of all his races, and has encouraged his troop 100 percent of the way.

"I've always been a pretty solid, if not competitive runner, and both my teenage sons run for the Lakenheath High School cross country team, so I know a little bit about the sport," said Colonel Robertson.

"When Jon in-processed, I asked him what he's good at - as I do with all my new Defenders - and Jon said he's a runner. As the wing run was the next day, I jokingly told him, 'I'll be the judge of that...'

"Jon won that wing run, and every one since that he's competed in," the 100th SFS commander said. "While the run is a fun run, the guys up front take it pretty seriously. Jon also led a Defender contingent in the Spartan race a couple of months ago - and won it after some other folks were disqualified for missing a portion of the course."

The colonel added that Airman Porubsky soon began volunteering his time at LHS as the assistant cross country coach, and his efforts have since yielded this year's European champion.

"As if that wasn't enough, he took on Col. Chad Manske's [100th Air Refueling Wing commander] fitness challenge - and now has a nice parking spot!

"So when the opportunity came for Jon to represent the 100th SFS, Team Mildenhall, USAFE and the Air Force at the European cross country championships, the decision was easy," he said. "Jon is driven, and I admire his dedication and discipline."