METAMORA — You might say Metamora resident Christina Webster has "run" a different course than most.
"I've always been the kind of person to do things differently," the recent Marine Corps graduate said, reflecting on the way her life turned out thus far.
Her junior year at Metamora Township High School she entered a half marathon totalling 13.1 miles. Though her time in the marathons was what she considered average, she still prided herself on the fact that she even completed it in the first place.
"How many people out there ever even run a half marathon?" Webster said.
A while later she helped a friend run an ultra marathon of 100 miles by pacing him the last 34 miles.
"The runners will have pacers that will motivate them and help them keep going," she said.
Finding a new challenge
But she would soon need a new kind of activity to keep her going. She decided to sign up for the Marine Corps in April 2012 her senior year of high school.
"I wanted something to keep challenging myself," Webster said.
Boot camp wouldn't start for another six months. However, she proved her eagerness from the start with intensive training of her own during the waiting period.
"Every day I would go to work and then after work I would go into my recruiter's office and work out for hours," Webster said. "Sometimes I'd work out for up to three hours."
Her recruiting officer played a significant role in boosting her momentum toward becoming a Marine. He extended more support toward Webster since she put in the effort that the male recruits typically do not.
"He liked the fact that I would come in every day no matter what," she said.
He helped her achieve the personal goal of doing three pull-ups in one set. The minimum requirement for women to qualify for boot camp is to do a flex arm hang — hanging with your chin above the pull-up bar — for 12 seconds. The male recruits seemed less than impressed with her determination at first.
"All the guys were like, 'Oh flex arm hangs ... those are so easy," she said.
But they would soon find her commitment to be more than just an act. That moment came when the recruiting officer went off-script to show off Webster's skills.
"'He said, 'OK, let's do some flex arm hangs,'" she said. "So the guys did it and then they could barely do three pull-ups. And then he said, 'Alright, watch Christina do her pull-ups,' and I did five of them."
We are family
The encouragement she received from her recruiting officer would not come as her only support. Her family also cheered her on.
"I've never seen my family more happy before," Webster said of their support for her.
Though the reassurance from aunts, uncles, cousins and her parents added to her inspiration to join the military, she said she would have joined regardless.
"Nothing was going to stop me anyway," she said. "It's my life."
At one point, her mom, Colleen Von Behren, struggled with the idea of her daughter joining an organization with such a magnificent reputation for toughness. But Webster said she came around as well.
"She randomly sent me a text message one day saying that she would support me no matter what," she said. "She said, 'I just want you to be happy.'"
Her mom also had this to say about her decision to join the Marines:
"She looked at colleges and always came back to the Marines," Von Behren said. "We have received lots of letters from her and she is very excited about her choice to become a Marine. (Her whole family and I) are very proud of her."
Aside from that, she received a small amount of grilling from the rest of her family.
"I had aunts and uncles ask me why I would want to do such a thing and when I would tell them, they'd say, 'OK whatever makes you happy,'" she said.
Webster's family showed their support by traveling to South Carolina to see her graduate boot camp.
Rise and shine
She began the all-female boot camp in October, a 13-week training session in Parris Island, S.C. Drills ranged from obstacle courses to marching while carrying rifles.
"I got a lot of compliments from my drill instructor on how good of a marcher I was," Webster said, having performed in her high school's marching band.
The biggest challenge was the drill instructor's expectation that the women wake up at 4 a.m. and go to sleep at 8 p.m. every day of the week.
"I was on a completely new schedule for everything," Webster said.
Punishments worked differently in the Marines, according to Webster.
"If one person screwed up, the whole platoon was punished," she said.
However, her drill instructor made it impossible to sleep in as he would personally wake the women up in the morning.
"Our drill instructor would wake us up, screaming at the top his lungs, 'Lights!'" she said.
With the new routine and high expectations, staying positive remained a priority for Webster.
"You have to make it fun for yourself," she said.
She was fortunate enough that her group was never late. She graduated from boot camp Jan. 18 and will be in Metamora for three weeks from the date of her graduation.
"It's definitely challenging ... mentally and physically ... but it's possible," she said. "The easiest way out is to graduate."
What happens next?
On Feb. 12, Webster will find herself at Camp Geiger in North Carolina for 29 days of Marine Combat Training, a sector of the School of Infantry. Marines.com states that this sector hones basic infantry skills in soldiers. There she will join both male and female Marines.
"It's going to be great because you can really prove to yourself that you can do as well as a male can," she said.
According to Marines.com, Camp Geiger is a satellite facility of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. The SOI mantra states, "Every marine a rifleman," underlining the importance of knowing how to operate in a combat environment.
Webster will participate in the other sector of the School of Infantry known as the Infantry Training Battalion, after completing MCT, to become a Military Occupation Specialty Marine. She will learn the necessary skills to go out into the fleet in one month's time. She said she believes this training will occur in Missouri.
Once finished, Webster will finally see herself stationed at a military base as an active duty Marine. Wherever that location is — she said she hopes she can go to Okinawa, Japan — her assignment will consist of driving military vehicles for the Marines.
"I really hope it's Okinawa," she said. "I have a friend who's stationed there, and he loves it. Plus, how many people get to say they went to Okinawa, Japan?"