- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
TEMPE, Ariz. – In the days following the Boston Marathon bombings, Jon and Leslie Woodard debated whether to go through with plans to participate in Pat's Run, concerned about their safety.
Even before law enforcement officials tracked down the two suspects in the Boston bombings, the Woodards made a decision: They were running no matter what.
Pat Tillman gave up millions of dollars in the NFL to fight for his country and there was no way they were going to let terrorists prevent them from joining the run in his honor.
"We decided that we had to do it," said Jon Woodard, who ran in the Boston Marathon a few years ago and was wearing a Red Sox jersey. "We couldn't let something like that stop us, not for a run like this."
Tillman swapped out an NFL uniform for one of an Army Ranger following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, leaving his family and lucrative career behind to fight for his country. He became a symbolism for patriotism and it was only enhanced after he was killed by friendly fire in 2004 in Afghanistan.
The year after Tillman was killed, his family and friends gathered to run in his honor, a celebration of an adventurous and courageous spirit.
The 4.2-mile has since ballooned into a massive event that brings more than 30,000 runners and volunteers from around the country to race around the streets of Tempe, along with becoming the major fundraiser for the Tillman Foundation, which provides assistance to servicemen their families.
After the bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded more than 180 others on Monday, there was concern that Pat's Run could become a target for further or copycat attacks.
Law enforcement officials beefed up security for the run and race organizers banned backpacks, bags and luggage during the race to quell suspicion and fears.
But the Boston bombings did nothing to dampen the spirit of Pat's Run participants.
If anything, it hardened their resolve.
Starting with the watch-checking runners at the front of the pack and ending with a 0.42-mile kids run inside Arizona State's football stadium, Pat's Run was a celebration of Tillman's life and a nose-thumbing at anyone who would attack the people he fought for.
For about an hour, 28,000 runners streamed past the starting line: Blind men and women with canes and assist dogs, veterans missing limbs, current servicemen and women in full gear, families with strollers, runners pushing wheelchairs, Arizona State athletes and overweight people pushing themselves to run for as long as they can.
Many showed their support for the people of Boston, wearing Red Sox jerseys and shirts, carrying or wearing signs, writing messages on their arms and legs.
"We're not just running for Pat Tillman, we're running for everyone who's been affected by the Boston bombings," said runner Jenn Goins, who had "Boston Strong" written in black ink on her arms. "I'm not from Boston, but this is for them. We want to honor everybody who was injured."
Law enforcement officials beefed up security for the race, increasing the number of uniformed and plain-clothes officers, including some on horseback, motorcycles and even a few on segues, along with bomb-detecting dogs.
Their presence was unobtrusive, though, and many fans veered to the sides of the course to share high-fives with officers lining the course.
As the day wound down, a Pat's Run tradition took place inside Sun Devil Stadium.
That's where Sheldon Davidson, a Vietnam Veteran, climbed from his wheelchair and made stilted steps with the help of crutches over the final 42 yards of the course. Davidson has completed the final stretch on his own every year since 2007 despite a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body and this year did it with the help of Arizona State football players who lined the path to the finish line and offered encouragement.
"I don't think the bombings slowed anyone down a bit," Davidson said after climbing back into his wheelchair. "If anything, it made Pat's Run bigger."
From the size of the crowd and the enthusiasm in it, he may be right.