By Rob McIlvaineApril 23, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 23, 2012) -- A total of 28,000 registered runners and wheelchair competitors came to Tempe, Ariz., Apr. 21 to compete in the 8th Annual "Pat's Run."
Also filling the sidelines were about 2,000 spectators, volunteers and sponsors who were there to honor the memory of Cpl. Patrick Daniel "Pat" Tillman, an NFL football player with the Arizona Cardinals who left to enlist in the U.S. Army following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Tillman joined the Army Rangers and served several tours in combat before being killed April 22, 2004, in Sperah, Afghanistan, at the age of 27, by "friendly fire" as was later ruled by the Pentagon.
After his death, the Pat Tillman Foundation was established to carry forward Tillman's legacy by inspiring and supporting those striving for positive change in themselves and the world.
His widow, Marie Ugenti Tillman, his high-school sweetheart whom he married just before enlisting in the Rangers, is president and co-founder of the foundation.
"The big thing this year was that we were sold out in advance. In previous years, people showed up and could register on the day of the event, but this has grown in such popularity, it was a sell-out, which is great," Tillman said.
She said the growth of Pat's Run has been completely overwhelming.
"I mean the fact that it's grown so much here in Tempe, but then we have all of these shadow runs all across the country and around the world is not something I could have ever imagined."
The "shadow races" are held for those who can't make it to Arizona, but still want to run, walk and honor. One was even held over the weekend at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan.
Through a partnership with the Arizona State University Alumni association, Pat's Run Shadow Runs take place in cities from Washington, D.C., to Takoma, Wash., and from Houston, Texas, to Madison, Wis., on or about the same day as Pat's Run in Tempe.
The racers in Tempe traveled along a 4.2-mile course around Tempe Town Lake to the finish line, on the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium in order to commemorate the number which Tillman wore as a Sun Devil and which was later retired in his honor.
Since the inaugural event in 2005, Pat's Run has evolved from a community celebration of Pat's memory to a global celebration of his legacy.
In September 2008, Rory Fanning, a fellow Army Ranger who was stationed with Tillman at Fort Lewis, Wash., began his "Walk for Pat", a walk across the United States in an effort to raise money and awareness for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The stated fundraising goal was $3.6 million, the value of the contract Tillman turned down when he decided to enlist in the military.
Today, in addition to honoring Pat Tillman, Pat's Run inspires Tillman Military Scholars and individuals across the country and around the world to a legacy of their own. Proceeds from the run go to providing scholarships to military members.
"Pat's Run really speaks to, not just the spirit of Pat, but also to the spirit of the military community and how they come together," Marie Tillman said.
"I hope to be here many years to come," she said.