"Four hundred fifty miles. That's really far."
"Yeah, it's like four full days of running.”
As we walked up to the Minute Man statue, there wasn’t much to talk about but the bare facts of what lay before us: a 450-mile relay run that would take us down the east coast, ending at the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
In September of 2013, I sat in a New York City breakfast spot with John Coogan, Executive Director of Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. "So here is my idea..." I say, and go on to explain a relay run and how we could raise money for the foundation. From the moment I had heard about Fallen Patriots, I knew I wanted to be a part of what they were doing. For over 10 years, they have been raising money for children whose parents have been killed in military service. The organization pays for the college education of those children. Completely.
Fallen Patriots was founded by David and Cynthia Kim. David served as an artillery officer in the U.S. Army. In 1989, he participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama with the 7th Infantry Division. David served with a man named Sgt. Delaney Gibbs. Five days before Christmas, Sgt. Gibbs was killed. His baby daughter was due to be born in March. This event impacted David greatly. As a result, he and his wife would go on to start “Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation”. Many years later, the Foundation tracked down Sgt. Gibbs’ daughter and helped pay for her college education.
This 450-mile run is dedicated to Sgt Gibbs. The dog tags that traveled all 450 miles bear his name.
Our send-off for the 450 mile journey had no fanfare. Todd and I stood alone beneath the Minute Man. We prayed over the journey we were about to start, thanking God in advance for safety and stamina. Todd and I are runners, but we had never done anything like this. The good thing about a relay run is there are multiple stages and different people to run them. The bad thing about this relay run is that not every stage was full. We would each have to cover the three legs we were signed up for, plus the other six that were unfilled. Prayer for stamina seemed appropriate.
Before we took off, a man stopped and told us the history of the Minute Man statue and asked if he could sing “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is inscribed at the base of the Minute Man. That seemed like a fitting score for our departure. Plus, how often does a random person offer to sing for you? We happily said yes. He sang:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
With that, we were off. The first leg was a nine-miler. It didn't make sense for Todd and I to run the whole nine together because we had a lot miles to cover over the next five days. We did it anyway. We were just enjoying it all too much. Emotion would wash over us every time people would cheer from across the street or yell "America!" as they drove by. The best was when cars would stop for us as we were waiting to cross the street, no matter where or when we were crossing it. We joked, "When you run across the street wherever you want, you're a jerk. But add a flag and you're a patriot!"
Each of the 53 stages either started at, passed by, or ended at something of military significance. Some were statues or monuments, many were cemeteries, and a few bridges and battlefields were sprinkled throughout. I did my best to make sure we passed as many as possible throughout the 450-mile route. We allotted a 12-minute pace throughout the entire 450-mile stretch. That's quite slow for running, but just the right pace so that people could enjoy the handoffs and have moments of reflection as they journeyed.