BOONE: Running for the heroes

I never thought running would change my life — but in April 2010, it did.

I had started running three times a week about a year and a half ago and decided I wanted to try a 5K. I was a little scared at first because I didn’t know what to expect. I also thought I would pass out after a mile and have to be taken to the hospital. But I finished in a little more than 36 minutes and I was hooked. The atmosphere of it was amazing between the camaraderie of the runners and the excitement from the crowd cheering us on.

So when I was ready to do another 5K, I wanted to choose one that really meant something to me. I had came across the Fallen Heroes of Georgia Run on active.com and I knew this was the race for me.

This annual run, hosted by Run For the Fallen Inc., is held in honor of the close to 200 American soldiers from Georgia who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The proceeds from the race go toward funding scholarships and other programs started by the soldiers’ families.

I have always admired our active military personnel and soldiers who have died for our freedoms. And I wanted to pay tribute to my grandfather, who served in World War II and received a Purple Heart for being shot in the head during combat. When I told my grandfather I was doing it, he was so proud and said, “Bless your heart.”

I remember the race just like it was yesterday. As my boyfriend and I drove into the entrance at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, we saw signs along the road that said, “Drive with caution, honor run in progress.” I already felt like we were doing something special.

When the race started, we ran up a hill and then turned to our left, and that’s when the emotions hit me. There were signs posted in the ground along the course that had the name, date of birth, date of death and city where the soldiers were from who had lost their lives in combat. Families of the soldiers were cheering us on and saying “thank you” as we ran by. I felt like I should have stopped and said “thank you” to them instead.

At about the mile-and-a-half mark, we could hear a group of Marines chanting, carrying American flags while running with us. I had never seen or heard anything like that before. It made me run a little bit faster.

As we got closer to the finish line, there were soldiers standing out in uniform saluting us and it was so inspiring. Here I was just doing something to give back to the community and all these soldiers and families were grateful for us. Bagpipes were playing at the finish line, which was hauntingly beautiful. We got shirts for participating, but the coolest thing was getting an American flag.

The Fallen Heroes of Georgia Run was not only fun, but life changing and that’s why I’m doing it again this year. I hope others in the community will join me as well — not only for Georgia, but for our country as well.

This year’s race will be at 8 a.m. March 19 at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, 7000 Lanier Islands Parkway in Buford. The last day to register is March 9 and can be done by visiting active.com.

Tori Boone is a copy editor at the Daily Post. E-mail her at tori.boone@gwinnettdailypost.com.