After slogging through a rain-soaked start Friday night, Sgt. 1st Class Augusto "Tito" Piñeiro settled in for more than a day's worth of running in a gas mask, covering 100 miles to draw attention to the needs of wounded veterans.
And while the mask and the distance proved no match for the 37-year-old soldier, he wasn't exactly bright-eyed when his ordeal neared its end.
"I was falling asleep Sunday morning when I was running," Piñeiro said Tuesday in a phone interview with Army Times. "I had a buddy of mine who came down from Fort Bragg (North Carolina). He was literally holding my hand, running with me, waking me up when I was falling asleep."
Piñeiro stayed awake, hitting the century mark after 37.5 hours of running during the Knock on Wood 100 event in Greenville, South Carolina. The effort more than doubles the 41 miles covered by Marine veteran Aaron Benningfield while wearing a gas mask in 2015; Benningfield's mark is recognized as the world record by RecordSetter.com.
"There's already people on Facebook saying they're going to break it," he said of the 100-mile mark. "But I didn't go there to break a record. I went there to raise awareness for Operation Enduring Warrior. The previous record was 41 miles. I could've stopped at 42 miles. It wasn't about the record."
Founded by veterans to offer support programs for wounded warriors, OEW's most visible ambassadors are members of the Masked Athlete Team, who assist wounded vets during obstacle courses, marathons and other competitions. Piñeiro has worked with the nonprofit since 2014 and like other MAT members uses a call sign instead of his name while under the mask, going by "Unbreakable."
Sgt. 1st Class Augusto "Tito" Piñeiro and wife, Nina, pose after his 100-mile run
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Augusto "Tito" Piñeiro.
"The amount of support I got from everybody was overwhelming," the platoon sergeant said. "With the amount of support that showed up, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to accomplish 100 miles."
He wrapped up the race Sunday morning, and aside from sore feet and some "zoning out" on the trail thanks to lack of rest, the soldier said he made it through unscathed. After some thank-yous and some photos, he headed home before noon, but sleeping en route while his wife, Nina, did the driving wasn't an option.
"We have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old," Piñeiro said. "It was one of those rides."