Step Up for Scholars 2022: Gretchen Klingler

Blog, Step Up for Scholars | 08/14/2022

It’s the last day of the Step Up for Scholars, the second event in the 2022 Pat’s Run Challenge Series! Congratulations on all of your hard work over the last two weeks! We’ve been celebrating all 14 classes of Tillman Scholars over the last 14 days sharing their stories to inspire you to push a little harder tomorrow in your step challenge, and now beyond. Today, we round out the challenge with 2017 Tillman Scholar Gretchen Klingler discussing the importance of taking that next step towards your goal, even when you’re not sure what that goal is. Check out Gretchen here:

Hi, I’m 2017 Tillman Scholar Gretchen Klingler and I’d like to start by thanking you for supporting the Pat Tillman Foundation and for investing in yourself by joining the Step Up for Scholars effort. Maybe you’ve joined us because you’re wanting to take steps towards a healthier you or to challenge yourself by preparing for your first 5k or your first or tenth marathon every step you take makes you inches closer to your goal even if you’re not exactly sure what that goal is.

I’d like to share with you a story of mine that really illustrated to me why every small step is important, even if your goal isn’t clear; that you should continue pressing forward anyway. Last year, as our troops were pulling out of Afghanistan, I wanted to do something more than watch the news. I was pulled towards action to help evacuate our Afghan interpreters, allies, and friends. A friend of mine who I will refer to as Annie, called to ask me a favor. She’s an Afghan-American, Pashtun woman and a U.S. Air Force veteran and because of her service to the U.S. Military, her family in Afghanistan was in serious danger. Some of them still are. She needed help pulling together her family’s documentation to try to get them out and I knew that I was able to organize this information, but I wasn’t sure what the result would be. It was all so chaotic and from moment to moment, there was little certainty as to whether our efforts would be successful. But we knew that we would never succeed unless we first decided to try, so if this is what needed done I was going to put one foot in front of the other and do whatever she asked.

Eventually, relocation slowed and I received fewer and fewer phone calls from Annie, until one day she invited me to a family gathering. It was there that I learned that because of the team of people that would drop everything to help her through our consistent efforts and daily advocacy, that we were able to relocate over 50 of her family members. Many of them are now local to me. And then a few weeks ago, Annie invited me to an engagement party where she introduced me to several of her family members we were able to relocate and evacuate, including a now nine month old baby and her mother who were still pregnant when we got them out of Afghanistan. I was welcomed like family and overwhelmed with my own emotions and their gratitude.

I’ll say when I started helping Annie with her evacuation efforts I didn’t know what the end result would be or what the goal was that I was working towards. But I knew that every step forward was a step closer to something better and every step you are taking right now is closer to your goal. No matter what that goal is and no matter if you have a clear end point in mind, keep going and thank you for joining us.

Want to join the challenge? It’s not too late! Register by Aug. 14 at and you’ll get a commemorative t-shirt and hat.