Kenneth Bean graduated high school in the small town of Mansfield, Mo., alongside a school record 41 of his peers, just one year ahead of his friend and fellow baseball player Robert Pharris.
Pharris was the son of a farmer and a Marine who served in both Korea and Vietnam. He was the grandson of a farmer and World War II vet, and the great-grandson of a farmer and World War I vet. Once retired from the Army, Pharris deployed with the Missouri National Guard at 48 years old to serve alongside his son Benjamin — a Marine — in Afghanistan.
In January 2011, Pharris was attacked and killed by insurgents while serving as an agricultural specialist, helping to rebuild the local Afghan economy.
Bean – who’d just been diagnosed with obesity and high blood pressure when he heard about Pharris’ death – was greatly affected by the loss.
“What did I do to deserve one more day than him?” he asked himself.
Motivated by the service and sacrifice of the Pharris family, Bean decided to lose the weight and live a better life for himself, so he can be around longer his own family.
“I was up to almost 270 pounds,” he said. “The doctor said I had high blood pressure and he was going to put me on medication for it. It really worried me and I asked him if I could try something else instead.”
Bean began a strict cardio regimen. He located a place about five minutes from his home in Columbus, Ohio, where he knew he could get the kind of workout he needed. A hilly part of the countryside he now calls his haven.
“I knew I was going to need hills, so I found hills. Lots of them,” he said. “And the more I ran, the more I found I could run longer and farther.”
Bean began posting his longer and longer run results on Facebook where his friends and family encouraged him. A former supervisor from Wright-Patterson Airfield saw Bean had run for two straight hours and asked Bean if he was training for the Air Force Marathon.
“I laughed at him and said, ‘No way! I have no desire to run a marathon.’”
But the supervisor pressed on.
“’What about a half?’ he asked me. ‘Would you try a half?’ And that’s how I first ended up running a half-marathon,” Bean said.
Bean didn’t have a detailed plan, but he started training with the goal of running a half marathon in honor of his friend. Unfortunately when it came time to register for the race, it was sold out. He was heartbroken.
He contacted the race officials and they suggested he go through a charity sponsor.
“I looked at their charity sponsors and immediately the USO stood out,” he said. “It was the obvious choice [considering the relevance of the Pharris family’s service] and I thought wow — you know, this is really cool.”
Bean signed up with Team USO and pledged to raise $3,000 in exchange for a free training plan and a website where his friends and family could donate. With the support of his family, he completed his first marathon at the 2012 Air Force Marathon.
“My wife, family and friends have been supportive from day one,” Bean said. “though [they were] a little hesitant in understanding why, exactly, I was doing this.
“After reading some of my training journals, however, my wife started to get it, which even made our relationship stronger, and now when I go out on a training run … she’s coming along and she has even started to help coach me.”
It’s been a little over two years since he first began training in the memory of his friend. Bean is only 10 pounds short of his goal weight of 210, and he has completed a marathon and raised more than $1,000 for troops and their families.
Bean plans to run four races this year, all for the USO and Pharris’ memory. His final race will be the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., this October, where his wife, children and grandchildren plan to be at the finish line to cheer him in.
“I am matching my donations up to $100,” he posted on his Team USO fundraiser page. “Please, help me, help the USO for the troops. They are far away from home.”
–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer
More from the USO
May 25, 2017
NBC's 'This Is Us' Cast Visits Service Members and Military Families on USO Tour at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
It was a morning to remember. A group of stars from NBC’s “This Is Us” – Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Sullivan – spent a morning visiting service members and their families at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as part of a USO entertainment tour.
May 24, 2017
After Struggling to Find His Place in the World, Marine Finds Two Families – and His Place in Both
Deron Johnson didn't plan on joining the military, but he ended up a Marine. He also didn't anticipate becoming a fraternity brother at Texas A&M, but then came Theta Chi and its history of supporting the military - and the USO.
May 15, 2017
USO Operation Birthday Cake Brings the Party to Service Members in Japan
When Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey Lee received an urgent call to head to his work station one morning, he thought there was something seriously wrong, but there was no emergency. Instead, he walked into his own surprise birthday celebration, courtesy of his wife, USO Yokosuka and the Operation Birthday Cake Program.