Annual run to honor injured veterans kicks off today

DULUTH — Lost limbs. A body 98 percent covered with severe burns. Missing fingers and toes.

When Duluth police Lt. Bill Stevens and his compatriots begin their run from Duluth to Tampa, Fla., this morning, it won’t be for personal glory, any type of trophy or just to see if they can do it.

The journey approaching 500 miles will be in honor of M. Sgt. Eden Pearl, who sustained those horrific injuries while fighting for his country.

The sixth annual Special Operation Forces Run by Operation One Voice — the nonprofit founded by Stevens in 2003 — will be in honor of, like always, injured veterans.

“Last August, while on patrol on his birthday, (Pearl’s) unit was attacked with an (improvised explosive device),” Stevens said. “He is one of the most severely injured soldiers in the war.”

The run, which typically takes about 72 hours, begins at the Arena at Gwinnett Center today at 8:45 a.m. Twenty-seven police officers, firefighters and military personnel, including Stevens and Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Simmons, will end their patriotic run in Tampa on Wednesday morning, the birthday of the Marine Corps.

Taking place every year during the week of Veterans Day, the run is grueling. But then again, that’s the point.

“You kind of just dig down deep inside of yourself and know that those guys, they have to do the same thing,” Stevens said. “They have to dig down deep, but they’re doing it for the country.”

Picking one special forces member to honor each year, the gang of runners is divided into two “platoons,” with one running at all times. There’s no stopping, all the way to Tampa.

“I think it’s just reminding the people of Georgia and Florida, and everywhere really, what the holiday means,” Stevens said. “Hate or love the war, I don’t care, I don’t have an opinion there. But I’ll stand behind the soldiers.”