Inspiring ESPY-winning veteran who lost hearing in Taliban rocket blast running first NYC half marathon

Gretchen Evans in Afghanistan, Gretchen Evans running
Gretchen Evans in Afghanistan, Gretchen Evans running

She runs — but never from a challenge.

A highly-decorated U.S. Army veteran whose life was irrevocably altered 13 years ago by a Taliban rocket blast, will be among the more than 25,000 runners in Sunday’s United Airlines NYC Half Marathon.

In 2006, Gretchen Evans was a 46-year-old Command Sergeant Major with 27 years of service under her belt.

While on a combat tour in Afghanistan, the lifelong runner from Texas was critically wounded in a mortar attack.

Gretchen Evans served in the military for 27 years before being critically wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. Courtesy of Gretchen Evans
Gretchen Evans served in the military for 27 years before being critically wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. Courtesy of Gretchen Evans

The explosion peppered Evans, now 63, with shrapnel, leading to traumatic brain injuries that hamper her balance, short-term memory, and cognitive functioning.

And it also left her sensitive to light and completely deaf.

But her fighting spirit remained intact.

“Everybody has something happen to them,” Evans told The Post. “If you can find positive ways to help yourself get back up, and not let that define you or what you can accomplish. That’s what I hope people see when they see me: I got blown up, and that could have been the end of me living the life I wanted to live.

“I worked hard to get back the life I wanted,” added Evans. “I want to be defined as a person who overcame an obstacle, and if I can help take as many people with me – to their summit, to their dream – I’m happy to do that.”

Evans, who was honored during the 2022 ESPY Awards with the Pat Tillman Award for Service, said that 18 months after she was first hurt, she was back running.

Gradually, many of her symptoms started to wane, and she stopped many of the medications and therapies she’d been prescribed.

“Once I started running again, it turned the corner for me, mentally, emotionally, and physically,” Evans said, “and I haven’t stopped yet.”

Evans, who is also a best-selling author, said she’s excited to run in her first NYC Half, and hopes to raise a lot of money for Hope Story, an organization that assists parents of children with Down syndrome.

Gretchen Evans plans to run the half-marathon to raise money for Hope Story, an organization that provides support to parents of children with down syndrome. Courtesy of Gretchen Evans
Gretchen Evans plans to run the half-marathon to raise money for Hope Story, an organization that provides support to parents of children with down syndrome. Courtesy of Gretchen Evans

Evans doubts she’ll achieve a personal best time during Sunday’s race, which goes through Brooklyn and Manhattan and is organized by the New York Road Runners.

She also ran 13.1 miles on Saturday, during the DC Half Marathon, and raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Five years ago, Evans founded Team UNBROKEN, a mixed-ability adaptive athletic team, comprised of both wounded vets and civilians. In 2020, Team UNBROKEN was featured on the Mark Burnett-produced Amazon reality series “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji,” competing against dozens of teams from around the world.

Her team didn’t walk away with the grand prize, but Evans said the real victory was spotlighting people with mixed abilities.

“We aren’t afraid of failure,” she said. “We’re afraid of regret. We believe that what’s inside us is stronger than anything in our way.”