TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Every April, 28,000 runners descend upon the Arizona State University campus to cover the 4.2 miles of Pat’s Run.
The run started in 2004 as a way to honor Pat Tillman, the football player killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after leaving a lucrative NFL career.
Pat’s Run has blossomed into much more since that inaugural run in San Jose, California, becoming a way to honor a person considered to be a hero by many and to support the foundation that bears his name.
Pat’s Run has since branched out beyond the desert as people across the country joined in shadow runs in conjunction with the main event in Arizona.
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This weekend, more than 3,200 people in 32 cities will run 4.2 miles in what are now called honor runs to recognize Tillman’s life and the way he lived it while raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
“It’s just a meaningful experience for people,” said Trish Thiele-Keating, program manager of the Arizona State Alumni Association. “They feel a connection to Pat and want to show their support, even if they can’t run in Arizona.”
The first Pat’s Run was a way for family and friends to honor a man who lived a push-it-to-the-limit life, someone who walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to serve his country in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The run shifted to the desert a year later with 5,000 runners and grew as people came to know Tillman’s story, his approach to life and untimely death, touching many who had nothing do with Arizona State, the Arizona Cardinals or the military.
In 2009, the Pat Tillman Foundation decided to branch out, offering shadow runs in eight different cities for its Tillman Scholars and anyone who wanted to be a part of the run and couldn’t make it to Arizona.
A few hundred runners participated in the first shadow runs and they quickly expanded as more people wanted to be a part of Pat’s Run without travelling to Arizona. Thiele-Keating helps coordinate the runs, but the on-the-ground operation is all done by volunteers.
The runs tend to be in iconic places: Around historical monuments in Washington, D.C., along the beach in Los Angeles, past the piers along the Hudson River in New York, past the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, along the Charles River in Boston.
New York has the largest honor run with about 700 runners, while cities like Atlanta, Washington and Charleston, South Carolina, have 300 or more.
“It’s really just in honor of Pat’s legacy,” said George Sondecker, a former Tillman Scholar who now helps build rockets at SpaceX and will participate in the Los Angeles honor run. “He’s a national hero as far as I’m concerned. It’s a wonderful way to honor his life, the sacrifice he made. He’s certainly an exemplar in character and honor signing up to serve our country when our country needs us. It’s wonderful…