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Ethan Davis is not your average student.

When he realized his study abroad trip to France would overlap with the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Davis decided to run the marathon at the Normandy Running Festival — and he was not even a runner.

“The Air Force physical fitness test is a mile-and-a-half, so that was my go-to training run,” he said. “It’s a big jump to 26.2 miles, but I knew I had to take this opportunity.”

Davis is an Air Force ROTC student at Auburn University and has been enlisted in the Air National Guard since 2020. A rising senior, he is an economics major with a minor in aerospace engineering who hopes to fly for the Air Force when he graduates next May.

Davis comes from a military family, with both his father and grandfather having served in the Air Force. He was initially planning on becoming a commercial pilot, but when he attended orientation before his first semester at Auburn, he saw a sign about ROTC and immediately knew what he should do.

“When I realized the Air Force could pay for my training and I could fly for the country instead, I just knew it was the best path for me,” he said. “Having grown up in a military environment, I know about the selflessness that exudes from committing a career to protecting a nation.”

Davis is currently traveling with Auburn students and faculty on a Journalism-Sports Production study abroad trip focused on European sports production. The day before the June 2 race, he rented a car in Paris and drove the two-and-a-half hours to Normandy. The marathon took Davis and his fellow runners along Juno and Sword Beaches.

“There were over 80,000 British and Canadian soldiers who stormed those very beaches we got to run on,” he said. “It took about a month for them to fight the Germans and take back the city of Caen, which was one of the first areas liberated before the rest of the country.”

Davis found the race to be an interesting experience, especially when he saw several historical reenactors running the marathon.

“I saw one guy in a full WWII-era military uniform with a helmet and a backpack,” he said. “There were super cool sites and so many spectators, and it was inspiring to see all the local kids high-fiving the runners and cheering. I didn’t know what anyone was saying, but it was awesome, and it helped me keep my head up, especially at the end.” 

Davis’ personal goal was to run the 26.2 miles in under four hours, and he finished in three hours and 53 minutes — extremely impressive for someone who wasn’t a runner six months ago. Around mile 23, he started to experience leg cramps, but his determination and the support of his fellow study abroad classmates kept him going until the finish line.

“Everyone at study abroad was super supportive,” he said. “When I was waiting in the queue for the race, I had my phone out, and I started to see good luck messages in our GroupMe flooding in. I realized everyone was rooting for me, and that made me smile, so I knew I had to show out.”

Want to see what other study abroad students are up to this summer?

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