JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
An Air Education and Training Command program manager whose daily runs make him a familiar figure on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph's east side reached a milestone last week.
More than 14 years after making a commitment to run 15,000 miles, Richard Jernigan hit his target Dec. 5, the same day a powerful cold front blew into the San Antonio area.
There was nothing significant about the number 15,000, Jernigan said.
"It was just a whim," he said. "It was a target - there was no rhyme or reason to it."
But there is something significant about Jernigan's commitment to running, which has been a part of his life for more than 40 years despite some major health issues.
It started back in 1972, 11 years after the South Carolina native enlisted in the Air Force, when he was stationed at Ubon Air Base in Thailand.
"I started running for my health and to beat the boredom," he said.
When Jernigan returned to the states to an assignment at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, an installation in Austin that was closed 20 years ago, he committed to running 1,000 miles, typically covering five miles a day seven days a week. It took him about a year and a half to reach the 1,000-mile plateau.
Jernigan repeated the same commitment when he was stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland, but he hit his target faster - in 10½ months.
Jernigan, who served the Air Force as an air traffic controller and avionics specialist, retired at Dyess AFB, Texas, after 20 years, including three tours at Randolph. He began a 10-year career in the banking industry after settling down in Universal City and later landed contracting jobs at Randolph before assuming his current civil service position.
Jernigan faced a major health crisis in 1999. Experiencing shoulder pain, he went to his doctor and learned he needed quadruple bypass surgery. For his recovery, he was asked to walk and, before long, was back to his running regimen and made the commitment he pursued for some 14 years.
Jernigan's cleared several health hurdles since then - another bypass surgery, the installation of a pacemaker and a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot - but those setbacks didn't keep him off course for long.
"I've only stopped when I've gone on vacation, when I was ill or the weather was too bad," he said. "Running has kept me going."
Jernigan prefers to run at JBSA-Randolph, where he doesn't have to deal with neighborhood dogs. The self-described "creature of habit" leaves Hangar 6 at the end of his working day and follows a route to Randolph Oaks Golf Course and back via Fifth Street East and North Perimeter Road. He averages about 7 miles a day.
Jernigan said he also prefers to run alone.
"I go alone all the time," he said. "It's a time when I can think about things, a time for introspection. I'm a task-oriented person, so having a goal helps me complete a task every day."
Jernigan called himself "absolutely healthy," and said he weighs just four pounds heavier than he did when he enlisted in the Air Force.
The father of a grown son and daughter and the grandfather of four, Jernigan and his wife, Peggy, still live in Universal City.
He said his wife fully supports his daily runs.
"My wife is very happy for me," he said. "She's very supportive."
After a short break from his routine, Jernigan's next mission is to build on the 15,000 miles he has accumulated this century.
"I always have to have a goal," he said. "I've had smaller milestones in the past, but now I'm aiming for 20,000 and continuing on."