Honoring Pat Tillman and Veterans One Step at a Time
In 2008, members of my family and staff joined me in a life-changing event. We were first-time walkers in Pat’s Run, a tribute and fundraiser to honor Pat Tillman, the outstanding college and pro football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to serve his country as a member of the elite U.S. Army Rangers.
Tillman wasn’t just an outstanding player on the field, but a remarkable student off the field. Playing outside linebacker for Arizona State University, Tillman graduated in only three-and-a-half years while earning a 3.85 GPA. In 1998, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play safety. Less than a year after the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman left pro football to join the U.S. Army Rangers. In April 2004, he was killed in action in Afghanistan.
To honor Tillman’s legacy and devotion to his country, friends created Pat’s Run. This event honors Tillman and raises money to provide scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses. The event has grown to the point where police and fire officials are forced to cap participants at 28,000.
In college, Tillman wore No. 42, and that number is woven into the event. The run/walk is 4.2 miles long and ends on the 42 yard line of the Arizona Sun Devils field. After 2010, I wanted to get more involved and organized an American Family team to participate. The response was overwhelming.
In just one year, we built a team of more than 180 people. As a company, American Family also became involved, sponsoring a kids run (420 yards) in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Salzwedel, Sales Strategy and Support Vice President Jerry Rekowski and other company officials joined the team and walked in the event. In 2013, American Family increased its sponsorship, and our logo is proudly displayed on every Pat’s Run shirt and thousands of kid’s jerseys.
It’s no secret many veterans need help with college. However, many are unable to attend because they don’t have the means. Pat’s Run provides funding for veterans who want to attend college. Funds can be used for daycare, rent, car payments and food – whatever it takes to help veterans earn their degrees. Each year, the Tillman Foundation selects 60 veterans to add to the program. To date, funds have helped 290 veterans.
Last year, my wife, Sandy, and I were guests at the pre-race festivities and had a chance to meet many of the veterans receiving support from the foundation. These are amazing people who put their lives on hold while they wore our country’s uniform. Participating in Pat’s Run helps me give back and say thank you to these brave men and women.
I am proud to be able to help this fine organization. I am also proud of so many from American Family are supporting this important event.
This year, after 43 years with American Family, I plan to retire, but I’m not sitting still. My plan is to do volunteer work with the Tillman Foundation.
Editor’s note: Donations from Pat’s Run directly support the Tillman Military Scholars program, which provides scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses who reflect Pat’s values, strength of character, and commitment to service.