This past Saturday was the Travis Manion Foundation/ 9/11 Heroes’ Run, held in Athens at the Veterans Museum. For a number of reasons, this race has a lot of emotional significance to me, mostly because back three years ago, it was only the second 5K I had ever completed; and I still wasn’t sure if I could actually do it every time. Now I know that I can, and I love to do 5Ks and support the causes behind them.
Also, the Heroes’ Run purposes to take one of the most horrible things that ever happened on American soil and turn it into something good, and people of all “poundages” (read that fitness levels) and persuasions come together to honor the fallen. First responders, firefighters in full battle rattle, teams, families, kids being pushed in strollers, old, young, people of all colors come together to beat feet down the streets of Athens in order to show their heart for our soldiers, our country, our freedoms, and each other. Some run the course in 20 minutes, others walk it in an hour, and nobody cares who is the fastest. This year there were well over 600 people who came (the largest group ever), and there was just the perfect amount of gentle drizzle to cool us off.
On two sides of City Hall, starting with Marion Street in the early stages of the race, and then on Pryor Street when we were huffing and puffing toward the finish line, a solemn line of sentinels stood with the resolve of a soldier guarding the Tomb of the Unknown. There were framed pictures of the fallen on easels, and above them stood a line of individuals bearing the colors. I swallowed hard as I ran by both times.
I also want to say that of all the 5Ks in which I have completed in the last three years, there was something especially powerful as well as energizing about completing the 2019 Heroes’ Run. This was largely due to the fierce vocal support we received as we crossed the finish line. I imagine that on this side it is the closest thing to being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses that I will ever experience, and I would expect that the roar of the crowd will be just as loud, if not louder.
Before the starting gun, we were treated to a speech by a former Navy SEAL by the name of Michael Cross, who was present with his wife, Ashley, and their children. He told of the service and sacrifice of his fellow teammates as they served in Iraq and endured way too many deployments to Afghanistan. Michael told of a creed by which they lived, and I have decided to incorporate it into my daily ritual. He said they lived by three mandates: Be Strong, Be Accountable, and Never Complain. And then he said something with the caliber of compassion I encountered daily when I lived amongst SEALS on Radwaniyah: “For some of you, ‘being strong’ means getting out of bed every day and washing your face, because of the grief you are going through.”
You see, true warriors, when it comes to dealing with civilians, are not all about BMI, how many one-handed pushups they can do in 60 seconds, or whether it takes longer than 60 minutes to complete a 5K. They are about digging deep, finding strength and increasing it, and then sharing it with others who may need to borrow some, especially in times like these. They live by the motto that shows up on every Travis Manion 9/11 Heroes Run T-shirt: “If not me, then who?” It is for reasons such as these that the words of a SEAL almost always make a knot in my throat, even 15 years later. We are blessed to be able honor them and the rest of our first responders, and may we never lose sight of what has been given so that we can breathe free.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner