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Cottonwood Heights Journal

In person or virtual, event planned to honor Pat Tillman, support veterans

Apr 02, 2020 11:03AM ● By Josh Wood

Runners gather each spring to honor Pat Tillman and support veterans. (Photo courtesy of Carl Churchill)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Local veterans and supporters will honor the legacy of Pat Tillman on April 18 with the annual Tillman Honor Run. The event was originally slated to start at 8 a.m. at Alpha Coffee on Fort Union Boulevard, but because of social distancing measures, it has gone virtual.

"On the morning of Saturday, April 18, instead of gathering to run the streets of Tempe, we encourage you to run 4.2 miles individually, wherever you are. Different streets. Same day. Same mission," says the event's website. 

The honor run is organized by Arizona State University Alumni and by event co-captains Elisha Hayes and Carl Churchill. The event is open to the community and will raise funds for the Tillman Scholar Program, which offers scholarships to veterans seeking to make a positive impact in the world.

Churchill was inspired to help organize the Utah Tillman Honor Run when he and his wife, Lori, participated in the flagship event in Arizona several years ago. “Not only did we get to run the Tillman run, but we also go to meet a lot of Tillman Military Scholars,” Churchill said. “It’s really super cool to meet the scholars and talk with them.”

The main Tillman Run in Arizona typically starts next to Sun Devil Stadium where Pat Tillman played. It’s 4.2 miles to honor the number Tillman wore. Runners then end the run at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium after running through the tunnels players use to enter the stadium.

The 2020 Tillman Honor Run in Arizona will be run as a virtual event in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Tillman Foundation has encouraged people to run by themselves or in small groups and share their experiences via social media.

Churchill remembers his first Tillman Run experience. “So we got to run the Tillman Run, and I was blown away,” he said. “There were units running in formation, there were guys running with sandbags on their shoulders, and there were people running with strollers too because it’s a fun run.”

Churchill thought it would a great idea for his business to support the event. He looked online and found there were satellite runs in Afghanistan on military bases and in places scattered throughout the US as well.

One of those places was in Washington State where Churchill was stationed at Fort Lewis and where his wife is from. It’s also where Tillman was stationed with the Ranger battalion. The Churchills ran the event, and Carl was invited to speak to the crowd.

The next year, Churchill found that there was a Tillman Honor Run in the Salt Lake Valley. “It was out at Daybreak and there were about 12 people,” Churchill said. “I said, hey guys let me help you. I can get 12 of my buddies to come run with me and we could double the number. We really should honor Pat in the right way. Let’s really turn this into something.”

The group worked together and decided to hold the next run at the Churchill’s business in Cottonwood Heights, Alpha Coffee. The first year the event was held there in 2018, there were over 70 people. Last year, there were around 160. Should the event take place this year, the goal is to get over 300 people to participate.

Like the flagship event in Arizona, the run is planned to be 4.2 miles beginning and ending at Alpha Coffee where food and music is planned after the run. “We’ve gotten commitments from a couple military units that they are going to have some vehicles here for people to see,” Churchill said. “We’re going to have music and stuff like that afterwards. It will be really fun. We’re excited for how it’s going to turn out.”

The Tillman Honor Run has brought out the best of its participants, who help raise support for the Tillman Scholarship Fund while also honoring Tillman’s legacy.

“Last year we had members of the 19th Special Forces group rucking it with 50-pound rucks, so they were walking it with a huge load on their backs,” Churchill said. “We had people walking their dogs, people were jogging pushing their strollers. I ran the whole thing with the flag last year.

“We had an 85-year-old vet walk it, the whole thing, with his daughter, and we had another vet who was on crutches with one leg who did the whole thing on crutches.”

The Cottonwood Heights Police Department has played a key role in the event with traffic control and even running in the event.

For Carl Churchill, honoring a fellow veteran like Pat Tillman is a source of pride and a way to get the community involved in a cause close to his heart. “He was an amazing guy,” Churchill said of Tillman. “A really special individual.”