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Updated Apr 18, 2012 - 3:51 pm

Pat's Run is more than a race

The assignment seemed simple enough.

Do a story about the 8th annual Pat's Run.

It made sense. I'll be running in the event for the first time Saturday, and it's become enough of a staple here in the Valley that we should have something on it for

Then I started putting the story together, and learned there is much more to the story than I originally thought.

Sure, the run itself is important. Hunter Riley, Director of Programs for the Pat Tillman Foundation, said they sold out and are expecting 28,000 people for the 4.2 mile run, and another 4,000 kids doing the .42 mile trek. Add in the 10,000 or so who will be there just to watch, and you have a packed house in Tempe Saturday morning.

And that doesn't even count the record 25 "shadow runs" that will take place all over the country.

"People around the United States definitely step up and become part of this," Riley said.

It's a far cry from the event's relatively humble beginnings in 2005.

"Year one, less than 5,000 people," Riley said of how many participated. "It was really about just a group of people honoring and remembering Pat Tillman."

Tillman, you remember, was an Arizona State Sun Devil, Arizona Cardinal and U.S. Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in a friendly fire incident on April 22, 2004. His death shocked the country but also opened America's eyes to a man whose legacy all involved hope to honor.

"We're here to honor those who have served and sacrificed for this nation," Riley said. "Because of that it's beyond Pat right now."

It's beyond the run, too.

Photo by Rachel Hawkinson

The "Tillman Military Scholars" program is designed to give people who "represent what we consider to be the leaders of the next greatest generation, or the potential to be those leaders of the next greatest generation, and we fund their education," according to Riley.

So, the foundation has selected up to 60 military veterans or military spouses since 2009, providing scholarships for them to further their post-military lives. And it's working, possibly in a way the foundation never could have imagined.

"I was told it was a scholarship program and of course I did research about the foundation," Senior Airman Michelle McBee said. "About halfway through the process it had nothing to do with actually getting scholarship money.

"I just wanted to be a member of the Pat Tillman Military Scholars."

So McBee, who is from Akron, Ohio and will be in Tempe Saturday for the run (her second), went through the process of submitting all the requisite essays and completing the necessary phone interviews.

"As a law student it was challenging because I was in my first year of law studies and I was actually doing the essays and applying at the same time as my final exams were occurring," she said.

McBee landed the scholarship, though, and has been part of the foundation ever since, impacting her community in an incredibly positive way.

But that can be expected when you get a group of people - all of whom want to do good things - together.

"One individual selected and getting money for school, they're going to go on and do something great," Riley said. "But one individual who's been introduced to 59 people who are just like him or her, the result out of that community is something I can't even describe."

McBee can.

"The people, in my opinion, that the Tillman Foundation selects as scholars are people that are interested in bettering their community and are interested in service," she said. "And then you put us together, and we move mountains."

McBee talked about how she, her family and other military scholars have helped to build homes and clean up neighborhoods, helping to teach them how service can help others.

And really, that seems to be the point of the entire Pat Tillman Foundation, honoring its namesake by helping others - just as the man himself would have done.

"We're selecting Tillman Military Scholars to continue the legacy of Pat Tillman by also creating their own legacy," Riley said.

Which takes us back to the race itself.

The most visible part of what the foundation does, it's a trek through Tillman's college city that finishes on the 42 yard line of the stadium he once starred in.

You will be able to see Tillman's legacy everywhere you look Saturday, be it on the race bibs that will say "Run, Walk, Honor" or simply in the person running next to you.

"You're running alongside someone who is a double-amputee, or a Tillman Military Scholar who is wearing gold, or one of Pat's teammates when he played for ASU…it's like the people you're running amongst keeps on becoming more inspirational itself.

"It's not just a 4.2 mile run and you're done, it really is the entire morning, that Saturday, that people come out to be a part of."

I, for one, cannot wait to be a part of it.

For more on the Pat Tillman Foundation and all it does please click here.


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