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October 25. 2012 12:11AM

Former Marine, marathoner faces a hard road to run


Rob Bernier served in the Marines from 1989 to 2004. Five years ago, he was making more than $80,000 a year, but after losing his job earlier this year he was forced to move into a shelter for veterans. (MARK HAYWARD/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- This year has been pretty rough on Rob Bernier.

In early February, he lost his job selling Mercedes Benzes for a New Hampshire dealer.

Three weeks later, an operation sidelined him for 10 weeks, causing him to fall behind on bills and child support.

In August, his car got repossessed. Last month, the 42-year-old moved out of his rented condo and into a homeless shelter, first New Horizon and then Liberty House, the south Manchester shelter designed for homeless veterans.

How does he cope with such adversity? Running.

Bernier is a marathoner. He said he's run 14 marathons, and his toes are itching to make this weekend's Marine Corps Marathon his 15th run.

But while his legs are toned and ready to run, his back pocket is a little light, and as of Wednesday Bernier didn't have a way to get to the marathon in Washington, D.C.

“You can't get any lower than this, unless you lose your health,” Bernier said in the office of Liberty House.

Bernier said he's hoping to find a ride or a ticket to get him to Washington. He said he'd also need a few dollars for food, but he plans to bed in a Washington-area shelter as long as he gets a chance to run.

“That is my ultimate release. I get a buzz from it, I get endorphins, I get an incredible high,” Bernier said.

Keith Howard, a case manager at Liberty House, said the organization is taking up a collection to get Bernier to Washington.

“He's a proud guy,” Howard said. For example, Bernier stopped running with a former running partner because he couldn't tolerate her treating him to a pizza and soda afterward, Howard said.

Bernier landed at Liberty House in culture shock, going from middle class to homeless, Howard said. Yet he remains upbeat and is grateful for the assistance, he said.

The Marine is evident in Bernier.

“Sir” slips from his lips during a conversation with a reporter. His hair is just long enough to lay on his head. The outline of a white T-shirt is evident under his white dress shirt. His chest is barrel shaped, as round as a head that looks as if it could take a jab from a rifle butt and keep fighting.

Bernier said he was in the Marines from February 1989 to March 2004. He was deployed in the First Gulf War but did not see combat. He was stationed in Japan during Enduring Freedom.

With a salesman's gift of gab, he did two tours as a Marine recruiter, but he eventually called it quits.

“I lost my love for the yelling,” he said.

As a car salesman for six years, he did well. In 2006 and 2007, his salary was in the mid-$80,000s, he said.

He said three veteran representatives are helping him look for work, and he's landed a couple of interviews. He plans to take the Manchester police exam next week, and he's looked into overseas security, which he acknowledged is dangerous work.

“You boost your life insurance, and if anything happens to you, it's the lottery for your children,” he said. “This is the times we're in. You do anything for your children.”

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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