'Shadow runs' across the country have taken Pat Tillman's legacy far beyond Tempe run's 4.2-mile route.
The San Francisco Pat's Run is one of several variations of the Tempe event that have sprung up across the country.
Photo courtesy of Sean Pate
By Tyler Lockman
Arizona State media relations director Doug Tammaro can't help but smile when recalling the upstart nature of the first ever Pat's Run, an idea he helped conceive while sitting in a Chandler brewery with Alex Garwood, Pat Tillman's brother-in-law, and Perry Edinger, the head athletic trainer during Tillman's playing days at ASU.
"Cones, megaphones, whistles and wingin' it," Tammaro says. "Obviously we've come a long way since then."
That first race in 2005 drew an impressive 5,500 runners. Now, 10 years on, the race sells out all 28,000 spots and would probably grow even larger if not for space limitations. But just as much as Pat's Run's popularity has grown in Tempe, so too has its reach across the country.
While more than 30,000 people converge on Sun Devil Stadium for Pat's Run this Saturday, thousands more will toe a starting line in more than 30 cities nationwide for official "shadow runs" organized by ASU Alumni Association chapters.
"That just shows that Pat's legacy is so big," Tammaro said. "The fact that this happens all over the country just speaks volumes to who he was and to how many people now know his story."
Tillman's story has been particularly renascent this week, which saw the 10-year anniversary of the day the former ASU and Arizona Cardinals player was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army.
That anniversary might have inspired increased participation in the shadow runs, which have grown annually since their informal beginnings in 2006. Like Pat's Run, the shadow runs charge a registration fee to benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation, which awards scholarships to military veterans and their spouses.
From coast to coast on Saturday, the shadow runs will have their biggest turnouts yet. The run in New York City typically draws the largest group of runners, and nearly 500 are expected this year. Philadelphia typically brings out a more modest 80 runners but can boast significant growth from its original crowd of just five runners in 2009.
On the other side of the country, at least 150 people will gather to run in Los Angeles, while up the coast in San Francisco, another 100 or so will make the 4.2-mile jaunt.
The fact that this happens all over the country just speaks volumes to who he was and to how many people now know his story.
Arizona State media relations director Doug Tammaro
The runs don't just bring out ASU alumni, either. In fact, most seem to be split pretty evenly, with plenty of military veterans, first responders and Tillman admirers with no ASU connections among the runners.
"What I like about the other ones is that none of them have tried to duplicate (Tempe)," Tammaro says. "They've tried to just take what they have and say, 'OK, we're not ashamed we have 20 runners. We're going to make it good.'"
Shadow run organizers have embraced the opportunity to create unique experience across the country. In San Francisco, for example, the run passes by the Golden Gate Bridge. In New York, the run finishes at the World Trade Center.
In Philadelphia, Fernando Torres, a 2005 ASU graduate, makes an extra effort each year to bring in a special guest. One year, it was New Jersey congressman Jon Runyan, who faced Tillman on the football field while with the Philadelphia Eagles. This year, three Tillman scholars will run with the group and share their experiences with the foundation.
"It's such an honor to carry on Pat's legacy," Torres said. "Words can't express how proud we are, first because he was a Sun Devil, but not just that -- also what he did and what he stood for."
Torres said this year's run was moved to a park in suburban Westchester due to increasing park fees within city limits. The race in Los Angeles, too, will take place in a new location this year.
Jen Bergmark, a 2006 ASU graduate who organizes the Los Angeles run, says the run used to finish at the Rose Bowl, where Tillman played in the Sun Devils' last appearance in the bowl game. A conflicting event at the Rose Bowl this year forced a move, but the run has an equally unique new home along Hermosa Beach, where runners will meet at American Junkie, a bar and restaurant co-owned by an ASU alumnus.
Bergmark says the venue change hasn't deterred runners, with some traveling more than an hour and a half from far suburbs such as Lancaster and San Bernardino.
The Los Angeles run is expected to draw at least 150 participants this year, organizers say.
Photo courtesy of Jen Bergmark
"I just think that says a lot that people want to travel that far and be a part of this day," Bergmark said.
Organizing a shadow run carries a little extra significance for Sean Pate, a 1997 ASU graduate who met Tillman on a few occasions through mutual friends. Pate helped organize the original San Francisco run as well as the San Jose shadow run, which was preceded by an official run that mirrored the Tempe run for three years before being scaled back.
Because Tillman grew up in San Jose, Pate believes the Bay Area runs have an added meaning in the community.
"I think the fact Pat was born and raised in the area, at least for me as a Bay Area native, is something people feel connected too," Pate said.
Save Boston, there's no shadow run farther from Tillman's hometown than the one in New York City. The expected crowd this year is double last year's, organizer and 1998 ASU graduate Jason Alberts says, and features many runners who have done the race in Tempe but can't make it back to Arizona.
"The fact that it continues to grow year after year is a just a testament to the number of people that continue to relate to and appreciate Pat's story," Alberts said. "Even 10 years after his passing, it still resonates with people."
That's the common thread of the shadow runs. For all their differences, big and small, they serve the same purpose: celebrating Tillman's life and carrying on his commitment to service, which continues in his name through his foundation.
Through the shadow runs, Tillman's legacy has grown. Whether through a Pat's Run shirt prompting a stranger to ask about Tillman or a veteran runner inviting a friend to run, Tillman's story has spread.
"Everything that Pat stood for, his unwavering commitment to learning, service and action, I think people can relate to that," Alberts said. "Once people hear about the story and what he sacrificed and the decisions he made to help others over the course of his life, people relate to that and they respect that. The run allows people to honor his memory and everything he stood for."
Organizers expect the shadow runs to continue growing every year. How big they'll get, no one seems sure. But the more people who participate, the organizers figure, the more people will know and share Tillman's story.
"People were aware of what a great person Pat Tillman was, what an accomplished athlete he was, what a great student he was," Pate said. "But in the 10 years since his death, you see more and more people really identifying with what he did and ultimately saying it's so amazing that they want to honor that when they come out and run."