by Shelly Burgoyne, Tillman Military Scholar
As an amateur runner, I love races. I save all my race bibs and I write my time on the back of them. I have run 13 races, large and small, and each one has been special to me. Running is the most democratic of all sports; there is virtually no financial barrier for participation, there is little equipment and no special venue is needed. Weekend Warriors race alongside elite runners. Anyone can run, and anyone can watch. There are no ticket fees, no limits on spectators, and the runners race through the public space of a city.
This past weekend, I ran the one race that I have been looking forward to all year: Pat’s Run. I ran Pat’s Run for the first time last year after being selected as a Tillman Military Scholar. For me, this race is special because it has grown from a small run organized by Marie Tillman in Tempe, Arizona to a massive undertaking by the entire city of Phoenix. Pat’s Run embodies so many things: community, sacrifice, 10 years of war, loss, heroism, veterans, scholars, and courage.
Courage could be defined today as not knowing what evil lies on the other side of a decision, yet deciding to go anyway. When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Pat Tillman made a courageous decision. He placed one foot in front of the other and did not look back. He bravely left behind an exciting football career in Arizona, that was both comfortable and profitable, for a very different life as a U.S. Army Ranger. In his own words: “It doesn’t do me any good to be proud. It’s better to just force myself to be naïve about things, because otherwise I’ll start being happy with myself, and then I’ll stand still, and then I’m old news.” When Pat made his courageous decision, he became part of the 1 percent of Americans who serve our nation in uniform. Pat ultimately lost his life in the mountains of Afghanistan, placing him among the honored few who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom.
On April 15th, when the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon became a war zone, our nation was instantly propelled back to the emotions of 9/11. But this time there was one notable difference. After a decade of war, there are now thousands of veterans who live in our local communities. They live among us, they are organized, they are motivated to serve, they are young and smart, and they have not allowed themselves to be isolated.
On April 15th, several of these men and women – the one percent- where on the ground at the Boston Marathon. Among them was First Lieutenant Steve Fiola, a Massachusetts native. Fiola had participated in the Boston Marathon three times, each time rucking it. This year, he organized a team of soldiers to ruck the Marathon as Team “Tough Ruck.” Fiola’s team had just finished the 26.2 mile Ruck, and they were sitting exhausted near the finish line when they heard the blast on Boylston Street. These one percenters, like Pat Tillman, understand courage. Without knowing what evil stood ahead, they quickly jumped into action. They did not run to safety, they ran toward danger and they rendered aid to the fallen. As the Officer in Charge, Fiola immediately organized his exhausted team and jumped into action. He and his fellow soldier, 1SG Bernard Madore ripped down a fence that was separating the wounded from medical personnel and transport. Madore assisted children and helped with tourniquets, while Fiola rendered aid to a man on fire, with a badly burned face.
After tragic events like Boston, often all people can do is just do – placing one foot in front of the other, doing, creating, participating, working and running. This action, big or small, is important. It begins the exponential cycle of others acting and doing in service to others. In the end, simply doing creates real energy, real momentum, real organizations, and real missions of help that are changing lives. And in some cases, saving them.
Marie Tillman, Pat Tillman’s widow, is also a doer. When faced with the unspeakable loss of her husband, she also bravely left comfort behind and journeyed to a place unknown to her. Marie could have mourned the death of her husband privately and simply moved on with her life, leaving the Army part of her life behind. What she did instead placed her in the category of one percenters. She placed one foot in front of the other, slowly doing, creating one small project at a time, refusing to let herself become isolated. All this doing has resulted in what is now a solid and reputable mission that bears the name of her late husband. The Pat Tillman Foundation, started by Marie, Pat’s family and friends, is the result of a lot of people taking action and it has brought about tangible opportunities like Pat’s Run to give back to and support Tillman Military Scholars on their next journey after service. These two very real things serve a great need in our nation; they are not abstract, they are measurable energy, and they change our reality. Pat’s Run is the result of doing. After the evil in Boston, this weekend warrior and veteran could not wait to get to doing in Tempe – racing and supporting my fellow scholars who are carrying forward such an incredible legacy of leadership and service to country.
Shelly Burgoyne, a former Army officer who served two tours in Iraq, just completed her Master’s in Public Policy as a Tillman Military Scholar at the University of Maryland. She resides in San Antonio where she is currently awaiting assignment for a U.S. Embassy abroad.