According to Harper, it started as a bit of a joke.
“Then my wife actually got me a kilt, and it was easier for her to find me at the finish line because there’s not a lot of people wearing one,” he said.
Wearing a kilt isn’t only original, but it draws attention to Homes for Our Troops, the charity Harper runs for.
“I usually win the kilted division because it’s a kilted division of one,” he joked.
Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit organization providing modified homes for injured veterans. More than 500 runners join their running team yearly to raise money—and awareness—to their cause. Harper has been a part of their running team since 2013. He wore their emblem at the Marine Corps Marathon, though the charity did not directly participate in this year’s event.
Through the charity, Harper met Cara Yanosick, who managed internal events and community fundraising for the charity, including their running team. Harper’s passion for running inspired her to join the team.
“I turned to him for advice about running and what races to do,” Yanosick said.
This year, she ran the marathon with a veteran who received a home from the charity.
“It really does make a difference knowing that you’re running for more than yourself,” she said.
Harper’s job as an allergy and immunology specialist for Carlisle-based Medical Arts Allergy and UPMC Pinnacle consumes 60 to 80 hours of the week, but he also knows that balance is essential. Even though running is important to him, he makes more time to be with patients and family.
“If everything goes well, I run four days a week, however work, weather and boys’ soccer factors into that,” Harper said. “I’m not going to run to win anything, but I do it for people who can’t run marathons.”
Once an airman himself, Harper knows how important it is to step up to the challenge.
“One year, when the course used to run through Georgetown, I was going up the big hill and I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘1 IED, 17 surgeries, 428 days in the hospital and rehab, now let’s talk about your pain.’ It absolutely puts it into perspective,” he said.
Harper has had many running partners, including Geoff Towers, a friend from when he served in the Air Force. Towers ran the marathon once in 2016, the year he retired from active duty.
“I ran it that year because I knew I’d get the guaranteed entry,” Towers recalled.
Active duty military are guaranteed a running spot in the marathon, and many take advantage of that every year. The pair attended medical school at the University of Utah together, completed residency at Keesler Medical Center in Mississippi, and were stationed in England together.
Towers and Harper have also run the Air Force Marathon and Disney’s Dopey Challenge together, where Harper marked his 2000th marathon mile in January 2018.
Towers didn’t run the Marine Corps Marathon with Harper this year, but recalled it as a great race, especially the blue mile, a mile-long tribute at the marathon to fallen Marines and their families. To Towers, it was “a very poignant reminder of a sacrifice a lot of people have made to preserve liberty and freedom.”
Harper, interviewed before the race, said he was looking forward to the 2019 marathon.
“I run a bunch of them, but Marine Corps is at the top of my list for a lot of reasons,” Harper said.
This year’s race also marked Harper’s first 50k.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he joked. “It may be ugly, but it’s important to stand up to the challenge.”
To learn more about Homes for Our Troops, visit their website.
Pictured above: Donald Harper at a previous Marine Corps Marathon.