The first hint of Fall in Florida is usually the release of pumpkin spice everything, it is certainly not the weather. With the turning of the calendar to September we dream of cozy socks, fireplaces, and lattes even if, for Floridians, that is just a dream. Beyond that dream, there is always a sense of looming as we approach the somber anniversary of September 11, 2001. No matter how many times the calendar is turned, we will never forget.
Each September the Tampa VAN (Veteran Approved Network) holds its annual Fallen Hero 5K | 10K event the week of that somber anniversary to honor all fallen heroes and to pay tribute to those still in service. Runners choose this event to dedicate their efforts to those who have died for us and those who continue to put their lives on the line in service to our country and community.
This year the Fallen Hero 5K | 10K event had been threatened with bad weather and race organizers stayed up late the night before watching radar, uncertain if the event could take place. At Al Lopez Park that very morning, the rain stayed at bay as hundreds gathered to commemorate the day and fallen heroes from all services including military, law enforcement, and first responders.
The presentation of colors included the Alonso High School Color Guard and a 38-foot tall American Flag from Big Blue Line Flag. Ms. Kat Casperson sang the National Anthem followed by special guests Jay Collins (for Florida Senate) and Maj Gen (ret) James S. “Hammer” Hartsell, Executive Director of Florida Veterans’ Affairs. Both men took a moment to recognize the day and its purpose before wishing the runners ‘Godspeed’.
At race start, more than 300 runners took to the trail that was lined with Remembrance Signs of fallen heroes. To honor fallen heroes, these remembrance signs are placed along the race route reminding runners that our fallen heroes may be gone but not forgotten. All proceeds from the sponsoring of Remembrance Signs and all donations to the race were given to Gold Star Mother, Kelly Kowall and her organization, My Warrior’s Place in Ruskin, Florida.
As the first runners began to cross the finish line the event’s focus moved to the children where a Fallen Hero 100-yard Kids Dash allowed the smallest patriots to run and earn a race medal alongside their parents and guardians. Adults and children alike enjoyed the Veterans’ Village where more than 20 Vetted for Vets business members and non-profit organizations of the VAN (Veteran Approved Network) gathered to give out free merchandise, B12 Shots, Massages, and other goods. Food tickets were provided to the runners to enjoy food from Sarge’s BBQ and treats from Kona Ice.