I make no attempt to downplay my 15-year love affair with the City of Athens. It is something that, God willing is going to do nothing but increase in its acuity, an affliction for which I am in great hope there is no cure. There are times, though, when the wonderfulness of our town just washes over me, and Saturday, September 12th was just one of those days. Beginning at 7 am, there were runners assembled at the Alabama Veterans’ Museum for the Heroes Run. The Heroes Run occurs each year on the Saturday the closest to 9/11, and its motto is, “Honor the fallen by challenging the living.” The purpose of the race’s sponsors, the Travis Manion Foundation, (named in honor of a young man who gave his life for us during his second deployment in Iraq,) is dedicated to support our veterans and their families, especially those who have served in the Desert Wars.
I was a timer for the race, and my post was at the intersection of Houston and Pryor. As the runners came by, I called out their times and yelled at them to “step it up,” something I did numerous times at the races our department ran for soldiers and civilians while I was in Iraq. There was a 9-year-old, and seasoned runners, including State Senator Bill Holtzclaw. There are no words, by the way, to have one’s job, if only for a moment, to be able to yell at someone in government. I say this tongue in cheek, but to be able to holler out, “C’mon Marine, let’s move, let’s move, let’s move” was one of the highlights of the day.
There were teams of runners, and groups of walkers. The cross country team from Elkmont was out in force. Members of the support staff for the City of Athens walked the 5K. However, what brought tears to my eyes every time they went by was the sight of the fire fighters in their “full battle rattle” jogging down the street. I thought of the 300+ FDNY firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. I thought of the firefighters who came from the States to Iraq to fight fire in a combat zone. Fire fighting is dangerous enough, but add combat and 130-degree weather, and you have, pardon the pun, a “whole different smoke.”
But it was the sign of 74-year-old Ann Nash walking her very first 5K that did me in. She had been training for the event by walking, and although she was the last one to finish, she received a hero’s welcome. I had been considering doing a 5K on some level myself, either walking, running, or both, and now I have no excuse. It’s on for next year!
As if that wasn’t enough, just down the road at Big Spring Park, the Superheroes invaded our town. Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, Superman, they were all there to let children who are battling cancer, or have beaten it, know that they were in their corner. Both events are part of national movements and organizations, but the unique flavor that came to the events due to the “specialness” of our town made it a day I will never forget. I just want to remind you, we have heroes and superheroes in our midst, and we are indeed blessed to be Athenians.