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600-mile run to honor local airman

LAWRENCEVILLE -- On a birthday, one might expect to receive things.

On Shaun Meadows' birthday -- July 31, 2008 -- the young Air Force staff sergeant lost his legs in northern Iraq.

Meadows was serving with an Army Special Operations Force when the vehicle he was traveling in hit an IED. Meadows, blown out of the vehicle, was the only crew member seriously hurt.

Though he will miss the event (he had to return to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for treatment), Meadows, a Winder-Barrow High School graduate, will be the honoree at the fifth Special Operations Forces Run.

Duluth police Lt. Bill Stevens, who organized the inaugural run to help teach his then-7-year-old son to respect troops, said Meadows, who he described as "a humble kid," is the first honoree with Georgia connections.

Meadows' mother, Sherry Fields, is a Duluth police officer and his stepfather, Ron, recently retired from the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

That first run, in 2004, ended at Fort Stewart near Savannah, where participants delivered military challenge coins to troops there. Shortly after, Stevens and his family were in Tampa vacationing when Stevens got word that Gen. Doug Brown, then commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, wanted to meet his son.

"He wanted to say thanks for sticking up for the soldiers," Stevens said.

The group spent an hour or so, Stevens said, touring MacDill Air Force Base.

"As we were leaving, (Brown) said, 'You made it to Savannah, but could you suck it up and make it to Tampa?"

The answer, apparently, is yes.

Saturday, 24 runners will again embark on the 600-plus mile, relay-type, nonstop run to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla. The team includes 14 soldiers, four police officers, three firefighters, two deputies and one federal agent.

Stevens also founded Operation One Voice, a nonprofit organization designed to financially assist children of special operations troops, no matter what branch of service, killed in action.

But the SOF Run is not a fundraiser, he said.

"With One Voice, if they're assigned to special ops, we try to take care of them," Stevens said. "But this run has nothing to do with fundraising; we run to honor."

A year to the day after Meadows lost his legs, Stevens said, he used prosthetics to go on a one-mile run. Saturday, 24 patriots will run in his honor and in the honor of special forces troops all over the world.

The military challenge coins this year bear Meadows' name, though he doesn't know that just yet. The honorary team captain won't be at the starting point Saturday, but would likely shun the attention if he were.

The Air Force special forces were already going to be the focus of this year's run. Meadows' Gwinnett connections and situation made him the perfect honoree, Stevens said.

But it's bigger than that, even.

"During this Veterans Day weekend, we want to remind our communities that our military families are in harm's way, securing our nation," Stevens said.