Columbus Academy's Annalise Grammel had ample motivation for promoting a sport close to her heart.

A junior and standout on the school's girls cross country team, Grammel organized the inaugural Honor Flight Columbus 5K run/walk, which starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at McCorkle Park in Gahanna.

The registration fee is $30 and all proceeds will benefit Honor Flight Columbus, an organization founded in 2006 to help raise money for senior veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials at no cost to them.

As of Aug. 1, Grammel said, approximately 70 people had registered for the event. That total, combined with donations she has received, would allow six veterans to travel to Washington. The travel expenses for each veteran is $500, according to Grammel.

Still, Grammel was hoping to have 250 participants by race day.

"My goal was to raise money for six veterans, but we've already surpassed that. So now we're hoping to get close to 20 (veterans to Washington)," she said.

The fundraising effort is close to Grammel's heart, as her great-grandfather, Atcherson Bercaw, was a World War II veteran. He died in 1990.

Her 98-year-old great-grandmother, Helen Bercaw, was part of the original effort to help establish the World War II Memorial in 2004, joining former presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and retired senator Bob Dole in the mission.

"I wanted to do something for my grandpa," Grammel said. "He passed away before I was born so I really didn't know him, but I've heard stories and they're really inspirational."

Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars also are eligible to travel to Washington via Honor Flight Columbus, which takes donations from the public.

"I thought it was wonderful because of what few veterans are left would certainly appreciate a trip like that," Helen Bercaw said of Grammel's efforts.

"It was a nice, thoughtful thing on her part to think of the veterans and help out like that, raise the money to send them to Washington."

Grammel began volunteering with Honor Flight Columbus in January and quickly became enthralled with the organization.

"It was like an eye-opening experience," she said. "I was seeing the community come together and support all the veterans who may or may not have gotten all the credit they deserve, so I wanted to do something to help."

The decision to organize a 5K race to raise money for Honor Flight Columbus came naturally to Grammel, a two-time Division III state competitor in cross country. She earned all-state honors in each of the past two seasons, finishing 17th in 19 minutes, 19.2 seconds as a sophomore after finishing 15th in 18:59 as a freshman.

Grammel also is a standout on the girls track and field and girls soccer teams.

"Annalise is a sweet kid," said Linda Sweazy, Grammel's grandmother and Atcherson Bercaw's daughter. "Annalise has always really been interested in the military history of the family and she likes photography. She's really a patriotic child, so that's why she wanted to do this project because she has loved doing it. I thought it was a nice way to honor her great-grandfather and her great-grandmother.

"My dad loved talking about his time in the military. He was very patriotic. He loved talking about his country and doing whatever he could and he would be so proud of Annalise for doing this. Mother has always had a soft spot in her heart for Annalise."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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