I never knew Pat Tillman.
That put me in the exclusive company of about 30,000 other friends the morning of April 22. In some small way — in a large gathering — all of us had come to honor the life and commitment of Pat. The 13th annual Pat’s Run was a bucket list thing for me.
Pat’s Run Co-founder Doug Tammaro — Arizona State’s basketball Media Relations Director — had been on me for years to participate. The only time I had been on the floor of Sun Devil Stadium was for national championship games. Now I was committed to finishing the race on the 42-yard line (a salute to Pat’s number with Arizona State).
There was time I didn’t think it would ever happen, having to rehab from a pair of strained Achilles tendons. Growing old sucks.
Doug reminded me at a night-before VIP reception, “You’ll see. Everybody there is so happy.”
April 22 dawned cloudless. A shock, I know, for Arizona. But it quickly became obvious we were a band of brothers and sisters out there under the rising sun. For the second time in the race’s history it was “sold out”. I didn’t exactly see a fire marshal out there but when it takes the slowest runners an hour just to get the starting line you know it’s crowded.
I wanted to know Pat while he was alive. Doing stories on him in the past, I had spoken to his wife, his friends, his admirers. I knew his story. I wanted to know HIM.
His race brought me closer. You see, this isn’t just a run. It’s a salute. A salute to a soldier, a patriot and a man. Pat would probably be embarrassed about the fuss made over his legacy. He was a simple guy who had core beliefs. Honesty, truth, no B.S.
He died tragically. His values live on in Pat’s Run.
“People nowadays don’t even know Michael Jordan from being a basketball player,” another Pat’s Run Co-founder, Perry Edinger, told me. “To come out and honor a guy who’s been dead for 13 years is really cool.”
It was cool, also uplifting, a spiritual goose to the backside. I saw three-year olds on the 4.2-mile course tearing it up. I saw my friend Kianie King. The mother of two-month old Zoey roll her child in a stroller through the course. It wasn’t easy. King has cerebral palsy. It takes her 2 1/2 hours to finish the race. She hasn’t let the affliction slow her down.
King has a degree from Arizona State and a determination to succeed. Four years ago in her first Pat’s Run, she took so long security guards weren’t going to let her in Sun Devil Stadium to finish the race.
That’s right. A race created to honor the outsize accomplishment of a gutty defensive back wouldn’t honor the outsized accomplishments of a gutty mom on crutches.
“I grew up where my parents never treated me different, disability or not,” King said. “If I fell down, I had to get back up. They didn’t baby me. I never felt disabled.”
Pat would be proud because he was a champion of the underdog. I discovered this story while preparing a story for the race:
No one knew until Tillman was gone and the race was established that he used to take part of his Monday off day with the Arizona Cardinals to read to elementary students.
“I never knew that,” Edinger said.
I don’t know if I’ll be back for another Pat’s Run. As much as it fulfilled me, there is the matter of family and work and finances. Maybe I’ll settle for my bucket being just a little bit fuller.
I made friends that day and I made history. (My 9:02 pace was a PR) Mostly, I’ll remember it was worth it.
It’s great that Pat Tillman’s legacy lives on. It’s great that a lot of people — 30,000 of them — agreed with me.