Pat Tillman's legacy continues to live on through Pat's Run in Tempe

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Pat Tillman lived to question authority.

That's a lasting inspiration of a life cut way too short 13 years ago. If you've forgotten -- and we never should -- Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The U.S. government and Bush administration then shamelessly co-opted his story for support to sell a war.

Their consciences should never be clear. Meanwhile, Tillman long ago raced past hero status, straight to becoming an American icon.

The lingering shame of his death is that after 13 years, there are those who never experienced his story in real time. They have to be reminded an NFL player (and former Arizona State defensive back) quit his job and gave up millions to not only enlist in the Army, but insist on becoming an Army Ranger

Anything short of that conviction and Tillman might still be alive today. But in death, his legacy lives on Saturday here at Pat's Run.

The event has sold out -- 28,000 strong -- for the second time. Proceeds go to benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation.

"People nowadays don't even know Michael Jordan from being a basketball player," said Perry Edinger, one of the founders of the race. "To come out and honor a guy who's been dead for 13 years is really cool."

There are countless stories of achievement each year that reflect Pat's spirit. He would be inspired by folks like Kainie King. She questioned authority during her first Pat's Run four years ago.

"Once we finally got to the end, everything was closed down," she said of finishing the race. "They didn't even want to allow us in the stadium."

The 4.2-mile course winds its way through Tempe and around the Arizona State campus. What race organizers didn't account for back then was King and her cerebral palsy.

The affliction didn't stop her from completing the course on crutches in just under three hours, just as the race was being broken down inside Sun Devil Stadium.

That's right: A race created to honor the outsized accomplishments of its namesake, was about to stop the outsized accomplishments of one of its participants.

"We fought with the security guard to get into the stadium to walk across the finish line because they didn't want to let us in because it was going to be a liability while they were tearing it down," King said.

"They tried to call the cops," King's husband Erik said. "We told them, 'We're going in there.' I would say that's kind of inspiring."

Eventually King was accommodated. Not that she needed it. Born three months premature in Parker, Arizona, King didn't get enough oxygen to the brain as an infant. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy a year after her birth.  

"I grew up where my parents never treated me different, disability or not," King said. "If I fell down, I had to get back up. They didn't baby me. I never felt disabled."

She lives as normal a life as can be, complete with 2-year-old Zoey who will be rolled along the course on Saturday.

The race and the human spirit have grown because of this event. In the beginning, King would almost be shoved out of the way by runners because of her pace.

Now, there is a human shield that forms around her on race day. Folks that don't know Pat Tillman from Pat Sajack will wait an hour just to get to the starting line. The race is that big, that important.

What would Pat think today?

"People ask me that all the time," said Edinger, an Arizona State trainer during Tillman's time. "I'm not going to try to answer for Pat. The best that I know him, he would say, 'I don't know why everybody is coming, but hey thanks for doing something good and raising money for the Tillman Scholarship.' "

Tillman never made first-team All-American at Arizona State (1994-97). He never was an NFL All-Pro with the Arizona Cardinals. But the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award is named after him.

Tillman's life proved he was not an athlete first. He made us think. He questioned authority, telling Edinger once they ought to bomb "the Pentagon and start over."

For those of you not versed in such deep thinking, those are the words of true patriot. He did not suffer fools. You simply cannot begin to criticize unless you gave up everything you loved to serve your country.

That love included a heart-breaking "just in case" letter Tillman left to his wife Marie.

No one knew until Tillman was gone and the race was established that he used to take part of his Monday off day with the Cardinals to read to elementary students.

"I talked to him a bunch," Edinger said. "I never knew that."

Tillman probably never wanted him to know. It was a life lived by conviction. That's part of the reason almost 30,000 will run the course that is not your typical 5K.

The race ends at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium. You might have guessed that gear adorned with Tillman's number (42) is still one of the biggest sellers in the bookstore.

Scholarships totaling $14 million have been handed out to 460 Tillman Scholars.

If you're there Saturday, try to find Edinger, Arizona State sports information director Doug Tammaro and Marie Tillman's brother-in-law, Alex Garwood.

They'll be the guys rushing around making sure everything goes off without a hitch. They helped found the race that started 13 years ago Saturday.

April 22, the day Pat Tillman died.

"Nothing good comes from trying to find about his death or avenging it, so you have to try to find something else," Edinger said.  

"[The race] makes me smile."

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories