When racers gather at Alum Creek Park Saturday, Sept. 6 to participate in the 9/11 Heroes Run, they won't be running because of the competition. They will be running to honor those who have been lost at home and overseas.
The third annual Westerville event is hosted by the Travis Manion Foundation, a nationwide organization created in the honor of a Marine killed in Iraq. The foundation assists veterans and families of fallen soldiers.
Registration for the race is $25 for an individual or $80 for a family of four. The race begins at 9 a.m. at Alum Creek Park North, 221 W. Main St.
Proceeds from the Westerville race go to the Travis Manion foundation and the Westerville Fire Fighters' Memorial Inc., which will use funds for their scholarship fund for the third year in a row.
Keith Wightman's son Brett was part of Lima Company, a group of Marine reserves based in Columbus who lost 14 members -- including Brett -- in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2005.
After his son's death, Wightman said he struggled to recover until people reached out to help.
"When it happened, it kind of put me into a big hole with no one in sight to help you out," Wightman said. "Then all of the sudden you started seeing arms, and it's these people who help to get you out of the hole. There are a lot of good people out there."
Those people, he said, are what make races like the 9/11 Heroes Run worthwhile. Wightman said that between other families and supporters, he and his wife Kim have found a support network of people who understand and care.
"There are so many people out there with their hands out to help us get out of that big hole," he said. "And that's what this 9/11 Heroes Run does for people like myself. They show us that they're not going to let our children be forgotten."
Perhaps the best demonstration of the power of events like the Heroes Run is the way Wightman got involved in the first place.
A family friend had heard about another run and asked if she could participate in Brett's name, and Keith was immediately inspired. Those are the people who make him feel like his son and other members of the U.S. Armed Forces won't be forgotten.
"They have not had a great loss in their family, but they're up there doing this," he said. "That's the real story."
Keith participated in the Westerville race last year, but the Wightman family has also set up the annual Brett Wightman Memorial 5K, in his southwest Ohio hometown of Sabina.
Wightman said that participation is more about honor than charity.
"I think about the sacrifice that Brett -- and every one of these men and women -- gave, and in a lot of ways it's the least we can do," he said. "We are geared to run away from danger, but it's so amazing that these people that train -- police, fire, service members -- they're running past us, and running to it."
A lasting memory, he said, was when a little girl asked if she could put her medal on Brett's boots, which were at a last year's race in Westerville as part of a display to remember fallen soldiers.
"These young kids in this world see a lot of bad, and then some child does something that selfless, just like these boys giving their lives," he said. "It was something else to see."