I figured I’d either run the “Fallen, Never Forgotten Memorial Run” or write about it, but not both.
In retrospect, it was good that I did both because I got to experience the event more fully by seeing it through others’ eyes, as well as my own. My husband and boys came along as well, with the intention to jog the 3k route together.
What struck me about this event more than anything else was the sense of — excuse the sappiness — love I felt. People were there to run or walk for those they loved, be it a friend, a brother, a husband or a parent. I spoke with two sisters who were running for their little brother and could see the pain of his loss still in their eyes even though it’s been almost seven years since his death.
I talked with a medic who was running for all his fallen “brothers,” and a man who, along with his three daughters, just ran for everyone who had lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11. I saw many children running with moms and dads, the occasional dog and numerous strollers. The 1st Cavalry Band was playing the heck out of popular tunes and the whole atmosphere had a festive yet contradictorily solemn air.
Some people had a long list of people they ran for while others had written just one name on the bib attached to their T-shirts. I was in the latter category. My brother-in-law, Marine Cpl. Matt Dillon, was killed in Iraq in December 2006. Matt was my husband’s baby brother and just 25 when he died. He was a handsome young man with intense blue eyes and a certain way about him that just made you want to be near him. And come to think of it, girls definitely did want to be around him — a lot.
I haven’t run competitively for a long time, although running has almost always been part of my life. Over the years I’ve run many 5ks and 10ks, a handful of half-marathons and one marathon. Lately, though, the only running I do is on our treadmill. So I wasn’t feeling particularly race-ready Saturday, though that really didn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
When the 5k began, I took off at what felt like a fairly brisk pace. I soon realized I was being passed right and left so I kicked it up a few notches. The route was straight down Battalion Avenue and back. There were memorial sites set up along the way, but I was too focused on my ragged breath and pounding feet to focus on them.
When it was time to turn around at the halfway point, I started talking to Matt: “Matt, I’m getting tired ... help me out here if you could.”
The sun was blazing now and we were running straight into it.
I imagined Matt trying to motivate me with his trademark humor: “Come on, get the lead out,” was one comment I could practically hear him say, a wicked grin on his face. Then he would be laughing and so would I.
I forced my heavy feet to keep going and pictured Matt running next to me in all his 25-year-old glory. The finish line loomed ahead and it wasn’t far off. We crossed the line together, and damned if we didn’t win the female 40- to 49-year-old age group category. I couldn’t have done it without you, Matt.