A military town as big as Virginia Beach seemed like a fitting place for a commemorative Memorial Day run. So in 2012, a group of grieving Gold Star families was understandably disappointed to discover no such run existed.
“It was after we experienced our first Memorial Day as widows when we realized that there was nothing,” one Navy widow said. “I remember thinking it was so weird that there was nothing that day. I thought, ‘We should do something.’”
And so, a small, determined group of Gold Star family members (who requested anonymity) figured out how to plan a race.
On Memorial Day in 2013, hundreds of local community members showed up for Virginia Beach’s inaugural Run to Remember VB, a family-friendly race honoring those who have lost their lives during military service.
One of the race’s founders recalled warm memories from that first run.
“We were super nervous. We were so excited about how many people had signed up,” she said. “The race looked beautiful. We had American flags out, and just seeing it kick off and everybody running it — I remember feeling super emotional.”
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Year after year, race participation has steadily increased. But in 2020 and 2021, COVID-19-related restrictions and uncertainty forced the race to be canceled.
During those raceless Memorial Days, several Gold Star families hosted individual neighborhood runs to honor their loved ones. The small gatherings were notably less work to organize, but the community missed the big race.
“We missed it because it was our Memorial Day thing,” one Gold Star family member said. “Even the kids missed it. We’re ready to have it back.”
Located at Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum on Monday, May 30, this year’s Run to Remember VB features a 5K, a kids’ one-mile run and a first-ever 10k race. Registration extends through race day, and anyone who signs up as a virtual runner receives a coveted race T-shirt.
“We’re expecting this race to be big since it’s been missing for a couple of years,” one founder said. Past races have seen upwards of 1,000 participants.
In addition to creating a meaningful place to convene on Memorial Day, the Run to Remember VB supports organizations that give back to military families. This year’s proceeds will go to The Station Foundation and Gold Star Peak, which offer healing programs for Special Operations and Gold Star families.
Due to the race’s consistent growth, two additional directors have been brought on to help coordinate logistics. Kristin Psimas, one of the race directors, sees the run as an opportunity to teach children the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“If you don’t live in a military community or have a military link, I think it’s possible to miss out on understanding what Memorial Day is about, and this race allows that,” Psimas said. “You can see firsthand these families that have sacrificed so much. It’s a way to honor them and the loved one they’ve lost.”
Having attended the Run to Remember VB since it began, veteran Navy spouse Anne Gassett stepped up to help direct this year’s race.
“To me, it’s all about the kids. Knowing that all these people are coming out to support them and honor their heroes — I mean, you just can’t put that into words.”
Gassett, who grew up in a civilian family, remembers spending Memorial Day at family barbecues. It wasn’t until she became a military spouse that her perspective of the holiday changed.
“Memorial Day is about pausing and remembering that we have freedom because of our military,” she said. “Yes, get together, have barbecues, have picnics, celebrate, be with your families and your friends. But also, don’t forget that there’s been a lot of suffering and a lot of loss. Just don’t forget that.”
The Navy widows who founded the run are among those who will never forget.
“If you’ve lost somebody, Memorial Day sits heavy on your heart and your soul,” a founding widow said. “But you see all of us out there on race day, and we are smiling and having the best time because we love that people are out here having a good time and honoring our heroes. It’s a special day.
“I love race day. I love that people come together to remember whoever their loved one is, and we just provide the space for it,” another founding widow said. “We get to celebrate those people together. I feel like it really is such a beautiful testimony to what Memorial Day should be.”