Number 42. More than just a number—it’s a source of motivation for more than 30,000 runners, including many from the city of Maricopa, who are getting ready to participate in the 7th Annual Pat’s Run on April 16.
Beginning at 7 a.m. on the 42-yard-line of Arizona State University’s football field, the 4.2 mile walk both honors Pat Tillman and raises money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, which helps provide educational support and resources to veterans, active service members and their dependents.
Santa Cruz Elementary P.E. Coach, Tracy Carey, is participating for the fifth time. With her family, she’ll be running with a team of eight from Maricopa. “To get out there and run with everyone is awesome,” she said. “It’s truly overwhelming to be a part of it. To see the firefighters, the police officers, the service members, grunting and singing as they run, it really pushes you to run your heart out. And when you see Special Olympians out there with them, it can be emotional. You can’t help but feel like a very proud American.”
The life of Pat Tillman has been a source of inspiration for many Americans since 9/11 when he quit the NFL and its million-dollar perks to join the 75th Ranger Regiment to fight in Afghanistan, where, ultimately, he sacrificed his life.
In Arizona Tillman holds a more special place in the hearts of many. He was a star linebacker for the Arizona State football team that started unranked at the beginning of the 1996 season and then toppled the reigning powerhouse of the time, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, finishing their regular season undefeated. They went on to the Rose Bowl and almost beat Ohio State in perhaps one of the most thrilling national championship games of all time.
As a student athlete, Tillman graduated from A.S.U. with an impressive 3.87 grade point average before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman was known for playing with all-out intensity, making him a fan favorite with both A.S.U. and the Cardinals.
Close friend, roommate, and former Cardinal teammate Zack Walz commented, “Pat always had a ‘no quit’ attitude about everything. Everyone saw that on the field, but, off the field, he was the same way. Even as he entered the NFL, they said he was too small or not fast enough, this and that, but the guy proved there was no challenge he couldn’t overcome. Even during our two-a-day practices in training camp, when everyone was taking a break and napping in between sessions, Pat was out there, still doing pull-ups and running around the track. He was one of the hardest working, most dedicated guys I’ve ever seen, and that’s with everything he put his mind to.”
Since the inaugural Pat’s Run in 2004, the event has grown from 6,000 runners to over 30,000 participants representing 48 states in 2010. Individuals, families, pro-athletes and corporations all participate in the event with many forming teams of runners.
Carey added, “In my first year there, you could kind of make your way to the starting line; now it’s just massive. It’s like a parade; everyone is out there waving American flags, State of Arizona flags, Pat’s jersey, all kinds of banners, and there’s even those wearing patriotic costumes, Army fatigues and football pads.”
The event has become so large and inspirational that there are additional shadow runs across the nation. Cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Chicago, Portland and Washington, D.C. will have their own rallies on or around that date.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” commented Walz. “This is exactly what Pat would have wanted because this is what he believed in—giving yourself to a higher cause. He might have been known as a football star, but he kept it all in perspective and, for him, he always put those that commit themselves to selfless roles like police officers, firefighters, those in the military fighting to keep our liberty, he put them as the heroes. ”
To still participate in the run, it will be $50. There is also a .42 mile Kids Run for children ages 12 and under. The Kids Run is $10 per child.
“It’s a perfect family event,” said Carey, “I saw moms and dads out there with their kids and their strollers. Even if the kids don’t understand what the event is really about—they’re going to have a good time, and, as they get older and keep going, they can really learn how one person can inspire millions of people.”
All proceeds and donations will go to the Pat Tillman Foundation. The Foundation annually awards educational scholarships through the Tillman Military Scholars program, and has awarded over $1.3 million in scholarships to 111 active service members, veterans and dependents.
“The Pat Tillman Foundation awarded $642,000 to the 2009 inaugural class of 52 Tillman Military Scholars and $709,000 to the 2010 class of 59 Tillman Military Scholars. Those selected for the program are connected by their intense desire to improve their own lives while continuing to serve their country and communities in a variety of ways.” said Lindsay Hansen, spokesperson for the event. “Tillman Military Scholars are pursuing education at every level from freshmen undergraduates to PhD candidates and represent 46 different institutions across 28 states. We are hoping with this year’s event, we can double the amount of scholarships.”
“Everyone from Maricopa has to come and partake in this. It’s just a big celebration with people coming in from all over the nation,” concluded Walz.. “And the run is the staple for the foundation that is helping so many servicemen and women. Be prepared though—be prepared to be touched and moved in a way you never felt.”