For the last several years, on or around Sept. 11, thousands of runners in dozens of cities around the world lace up their running shoes and hit the pavement for the 9/11 Heroes Run.
Like many things, this year, those runs will look significantly different, with virtual or socially distanced races across the country and globe. Still, the mission remains the same — remembering and honoring the heroes of 9/11.
The 9/11 Heroes run began in 2008 with about 500 runners, volunteers and spectators in the Philadelphia suburb Doylestown, Pa.
That suburb is the hometown of 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed on Apr. 29, 2007, when he and his fellow Marines were ambushed while searching a suspected insurgent house in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. Leading the counterattack, Manion was hit by an enemy sniper as he pulled his wounded teammates to safety.
Before leaving for his second combat deployment to Iraq, Travis and a friend visited Rescue 1 in New York City, the fire company which lost nearly half of its men and women while responding to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Travis’ sister Ryan, who serves as President of the , started in her brother’s honor, recalled him telling her about that trip to the storied firehouse.
“He told me, ‘I went there to thank them, and they couldn’t thank me enough for my service,’” Ryan Manion said.
During the visit, the firefighters at Rescue One gave Travis a fire hat. On the hat were the words “9/11 – Never Forget.”
“Remember, this is what we’re fighting for,” Travis said to his father as he passed along the fire hat for safekeeping before leaving for Iraq.
Travis was in his second year at the Naval Academy when the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
“When Travis and others entered their respective service academies, we were a nation at peace. But after 9/11, he and his classmates at the Naval Academy and others at West Point, the Air Force Academy and ROTC programs across the country knew as soon as they commissioned, they were going to be part of a war.”
A war that continues nineteen years later. More than 7,000 American soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan since 9/11.
That first 9/11 Heroes Run and the Travis Manion Foundation began as a labor of love.
“My mom started the organization, and for her, it was a way to channel the loss of her only son. I think the rest of the family saw it as a small, local organization in the Philadelphia area, but my mom had much bigger plans,” said Ryan.
By 2009, the race was run in two locations. In 2010, that number grew to 17 races across the country.
Ryan and Travis’s mother, Janet, kept dreaming big.
“Imagine if we had one of these in every state across the country,” Ryan remembered her mother saying. “I want the 9/11 Heroes Run to be the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for the military community.”
Janet Manion, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2012, would be proud of what that humble 2008 race in Doylestown has become.
In 2019, the 9/11 Heroes Run was held in more than 90 cities worldwide, with more than 60,000 runners taking part.
And while this year, most races across the country have transitioned to virtual participation, with a small number of cities scheduled to still host physical races with designated safety protocols in place, the mission remains.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure our next generation never forgets the sacrifices of our veterans, active-duty military, first responders, and civilians who were affected by the attacks on 9/11 and those who continue to step up after that date,” said Ryan.
She added, “This is so much more than a 5k run. It’s not about a run; this is about awareness and touching communities across the country with that same sense of spirit.”
A sense of spirit this country could very much use in 2020.
“This year more than ever, we need that. We are a fractured nation right now, and you think back to Sept. 12, 2001, and how we all felt connected, and we were all going to get through it together. With everything happening in the world right now, we need to recreate that spirit in any way we can.”
For more information, or to register for the 9/11 Heroes Run, visit:.