As the Orlando Magic's radio play-by-play announcer, Dennis Neumann spends his working life describing the athletic exploits of others.
But one week from Sunday, Neumann, his stepson and one of his stepdaughters will do something few pro athletes ever attempt.
They'll run the Marine Corps Marathon through the streets of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Along the 26.2-mile course, they'll pass memorials to troops who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as the Pentagon Memorial, which honors victims of 9-11.
"You just think of what they gave up for us," Neumann said. "Just an incredible sacrifice."
Those sacrifices hit home for Neumann's family.
His stepson, Brad Fessler, piloted CH-46 helicopters in the Marine Corps during three overseas deployments.
Fessler transported troops in and out of combat zones during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and during the troop surge in 2007.
"What I did paled in comparison to what guys on the ground do," Brad said during a phone interview. "I flew guys around and, for the most part, I lived inside the wire. Those guys who are infantry guys and guys who are on patrols and face-to-face with the enemy on the ground — those are the guys, I think, who deserve the credit."
But Brad's military service still left an indelible mark on the family.
It brought their already close-knit family even closer together.
And, even though they've run races before, next weekend's marathon will strengthen those bonds.
In 1985, Neumann was working for the USA Radio Network in Dallas when he met Debbie Fessler and her three children: Brad, Lisa and Stephanie.
Dennis and Debbie got married four years later.
During a recent interview, his voice rose as he talked about Brad, Lisa and Stephanie.
His love for them is obvious.
Brad attended the U.S. Naval Academy and now works for Honeywell in Phoenix and pilots V-22 Ospreys as a reservist.
Lisa is an import-export broker in Chicago.
Stephanie, who will run in the marathon, is a emergency-room pediatrician in Atlanta.
"I'm fortunate as a mom with children from another marriage to have him embrace my children like his own," Debbie said. "He's just fabulous with them and has been with them for a long time. They all love him. He loves them."
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Neumann grew up in Portland, Ore., and as a kid, he loved listening to sports on the radio.
The broadcasts of Bill Schonely, the Portland Trail Blazers' radio play-by-play announcer, captivated him.
He wanted to do what Schonely did.
In 1983, a Christian contemporary radio station in Plano, Texas, hired him to work as a disc jockey during the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift.
It was Neumann's first broadcasting job.
The next year, he started doing play-by-play work, announcing Plano East Senior High football games over the radio.
Other jobs in the industry followed.
In 1991, he joined the Magic as a studio host for their radio broadcasts and listened as David Steele did the team's radio play-by-play.
After the 1997-98 NBA season, Steele became the team's TV play-by-play man, and Neumann moved into Steele's old job.
Neumann's style has evolved ever since, influenced by Schonely, Steele and former Seattle SuperSonics play-by-play man Kevin Calabro.
Neumann's voice is smooth, and he speaks with impeccable grammar whether he's on-air or off-air.
Other than that, listening to Neumann call a game is different from listening to Neumann during a face-to-face conversation.
In his day-to-day life, Neumann, a 53-year-old man with thick, white hair, is soft-spoken and calm.
But, during Magic games, he captures the intensity of an emphatic dunk or a buzzer-beating shot with ease. His voice rises and acquires a rough edge.
"I love the competition," Neumann said. "I love sports. It's easy for me. Number one, I'm a fan. I think it just comes out when you watch it.
"I love radio," he added. "I love the fact that you can create the image. You try to create that image for people driving down the highway or working late at night or even sitting at an office."
When Magic swingman Maurice Harkless dunked during a game last season, Neumann yelled, "Red Storm rising!" It was a reference to Harkless' collegiate playing days for the St. John's Red Storm.
"He's genuine," Steele said of Neumann. "He's smart. He's articulate. He paints a clear picture on the radio. I think he's the best radio play-by-play announcer in the NBA. You know you have a good radio announcer when he paints a picture of what's happening on the floor. He does that with color and energy and excitement."
• • •
One of the perks of Neumann's job are trips to his stepchildren's cities.
Magic road games in Phoenix allow him to see Brad. Games in Chicago help him visit Lisa. And games in Atlanta enable him to spend time with Stephanie.
On a few occasions, Brad sat next to his stepdad during broadcasts.
Once — off the air — Brad attempted to announce an NBA game for 15 seconds.
"I tried to do Dennis' job, and it's impossible," he said.
Dennis conveys a similar sense of wonder when he's asked about Brad's military career.
A few months ago, Brad took Dennis into a flight simulator. With a flip of a switch, the simulator approximated what it's like to fly a V-22 Osprey during a sandstorm at night.
"It's beyond my realm of understanding," Dennis said.
Brad's deployments were rough on the family, especially his mom.
Just before Brad shipped off for his first deployment, Debbie spent some time aboard the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, to help Brad get ready.
The crewmen seemed so young, even younger than her son.
"Bradley," she remembers saying, "they look like they're 16."
There was a full moon that night.
Even now, she remembers that experience — and those youngsters' bravery — whenever she sees a full moon.
She recalls three occasions during Brad's deployments when she learned through news outlets that U.S. helicopters had crashed in the Middle East.
She knew that military officials would've informed the family before any news hit the airwaves, but that didn't prevent her or Dennis from worrying.
Each time, she went out to the family's front yard, just in case military officials were about to drive up to give her horrific news.
"I would sit out there from the time I found out to the time it got dark, because I figured if they hadn't come to my door by then to tell me, it wasn't Bradley," she said. "That's how I felt like I had to face it."
So, the family is acutely aware of other families' sacrifices.
It's one reason why the Marine Corps Marathon will mean so much.
As part of their run, Dennis, Brad and Stephanie are raising money for the Travis Manion Foundation, a nonprofit that helps veterans and their families. So far, Neumann and his stepchildren have raised about $5,500.
The marathon will conclude at the Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts troops raising the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.
Neumann has tried to predict what the marathon's final mile will feel like.
"To think of what has been sacrificed by those guys going overseas for us just to do what we do in this country every day," he said, his voice trailing off. "It'll be a big part of my thought process as I run."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun