Going the Distance: Reserve optometrist dedicated to humanitarian causes, running marathons

  • Published
  • By Capt. Emily Rautenberg

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Daniel Toocheck, an optometrist with the 514th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Toocheck is a dedicated humanitarian and avid marathon runner.

Originally from West Chester, Pennsylvania, Toocheck has been around military members most of his life. His father was an Army officer who served in the Korean War. His brother, Lt. Col. David Toocheck, is also an Air Force officer. In fact, the brothers were promoted to lieutenant colonel on the same day.

“I always had an interest in being in the Air Force,” Toocheck said. “The events of 9/11 and having children brought out the importance of service to the country.”

Toocheck came straight into the Reserve about eight years ago, immediately joining the 514th AMDS.

“I had heard that the AMDS had members who participated in the Innovative Readiness Training program, and the humanitarian aspect (of the IRT program) really impressed me,” he said.

Under IRT, military members – primarily medical specialists and civil engineers – receive valuable training while helping out people in underserved American communities.

Toocheck has volunteered for several IRT projects and traveled the country – from Kodiak Island, Alaska, to east central Georgia – providing quality eye care to Americans who have limited access to health care.

“Since being in the Air Force is voluntary, it takes a lot of sacrifice to make the civilian world and the military commitment blend well,” he said. “But the beauty of it all is that as long as you use the two worlds to complement the other, you end up getting so much more out of it than you would by just having one or the other.”

In the mid-1990s, before his Air Force career began, Toocheck began training for marathons.

“My father-in-law, who was training for the Marine Corps Marathon, inspired me to train for one,” he said. “I started with a traditional training program, running five days a week with a long run on the weekend, gradually adding mileage each week.”

Since he began training, Toocheck has run more than 70 marathons. He has run marathons on all seven continents and in all 50 states. He frequently runs marathons with his son, Nikolas.

Pushed to pick a favorite marathon, Toocheck said it would have to be the White Continent Marathon in Antarctica, which he has completed twice.

“It pushes the envelope of what you think you can accomplish,” he said. “The entire experience was first class. The penguins were irresistible, the race director knew what the runners needed, the other participants were from all over the world, and did I mention the penguins?”

Toocheck said running a marathon is possible for anyone once they make the commitment.

“My advice to someone trying to prioritize physical training would be to play to your strengths to maximize your chance of success,” he said. “If you are a morning person, do it early. If you are a night owl, work it in late.”

Consistency is key, Toocheck said. “If you keep a consistent training plan, you’ll be ready when race day comes around.

“Start slowly, don’t get injured and stick to an overall plan. It takes months to see and maintain results, so you need to be patient.”

Throughout his travels, Toocheck said he has run with people from all walks of life. “Anyone who wants to can finish a marathon,” he said. “I’ve run marathons with a nine-year-old in Antarctica, disabled service members and runners in bare feet. Even Oprah finished a marathon!”

Toocheck said motivation is key when it comes to training for marathons.

“You should know why you want to run a marathon. It helps when you start having doubts about putting in the training.”

He said the benefits of running marathons go beyond physical health, explaining that there are aspects of running that cross over into other aspects of his life.

“The first time I ran a marathon in Antarctica was the day after I ran one in South America,” he said. “Pushing the boundaries of what you think is normal or possible opens up what you are capable of accomplishing.”

For more on the Innovative Readiness Training program, visit https://irt.defense.gov/.  #ReserveResilient

(Rautenberg is assigned to the 514th Air Mobility Wing public affairs office.)