By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
In Pittsburgh, more than 50 runners will lace up their sneakers Saturday for a 4.2 mile run.
Almost 100 runners each will race the same length in San Francisco and San Jose.
And in New York City at least 500 runners will pace themselves through a similar route.
To the organizers of Pat's Run, those fields are just as important as the group of nearly 28,000 who will run the Tempe, Arizona, course for the race. The other events are the "shadow runs" that will occur concurrently with the 10th anniversary race in suburban Phoenix.
The original event, which will end at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, was created to honor the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. The fallen Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan in 2004.
His story of leaving the NFL to join the Army with his brother Kevin in 2002 after watching the events of 9/11 has been well-documented. His desire to serve his country, as well as his death, became an inspiration to so many that it did more than create a fast-growing "fun run" 10 years after his death.
Thirty-four sites around the country will host 4.2-mile shadow runs. That number has grown from five when the shadow runs started six years ago. Plus, there already were two troop runs by military groups overseas, with two more scheduled for Saturday.
"We rely a lot on the (Arizona State University) Alumni Association," said Sandy Flynn, who works for the Pat Tillman Foundation. "The ASU alumni group in each city hosts the shadow run for us. They take care of insurance, liabilities and permits.
"We used to try to do it in-house, but it just got to be too big of a job, growing from five runs to 34 runs in just a few years. They have an intern and an alumni event manager who coordinates the events. We help with shirts, handbooks, a tool kit and general questions. We usually try to do a conference call to get everybody on board and we have some basic marketing tools for them."
From there, the Tillman Foundation shepherds the online sign-ups along with the registration for the main race. This year, the foundation expects a record with more than 2,000 participants in the shadow runs.
The shadow runs are events that are the same length as the main run -- in this case, 4.2 miles -- that take place the same day as the main event. Some shadow runs start at the same time as the Tempe run, while others go off earlier because of time zone or logistical differences.
Flynn said 100 percent of the registration proceeds from the Tempe run and the shadow runs go back to the Tillman Foundation and help the Tillman Military Scholars fund.
All of the shadow runs have coordinators who take great pride in their events, Flynn said. For instance, Pittsburgh race coordinator Tony Greco got involved because he had friends on the 1996 ASU Rose Bowl team, including former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Jeremy Staat, who played with Tillman. Staat has previously participated in the Pittsburgh run.
The Pittsburgh shadow run has grown from 10 runners in 2011 to almost 60 this year. Greco's goal is to have the Pittsburgh shadow run end at the 42-yard line of Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It was tough getting started because none of us knew how to plan a race," Greco said. "I think just like the event started in Tempe a few years ago, we said, 'We'll pick a place to start and grow it from there,'
"The second year -- and this is the spirit of Pat coming through -- we partnered up with a group called the Steel City Vets, a group of Pittsburgh area servicemen from all branches of the military that just get together for social events. Their founder works to prevent vet suicide. ... As a result of partnering with them, they get the word out to their local vets and that's been the biggest way that this run has grown."
In the Bay Area, Sean Pate helps coordinate the shadow run in San Francisco. The president of the Northern California chapter of the ASU Alumni Association, Pate was also involved in the now-defunct official run in Tillman's hometown of San Jose, California, an event that is now part of the shadow run program.
"The shadow run program is a great one because it is much more cost effective and low investment in time for us to organize but a high participation and a great way for people to stay supportive of not only the foundation, but what Pat stood for," Pate said. "It helps folks who really, really still believe in what he was all about."
As the shadow runs were created, Pate said he was impressed by the amount of support the Tillman Foundation provided. The San Francisco shadow run, which is held in a scenic park near Golden Gate Bridge, has grown from about 50 to 100 runners, he said.
"It goes to show the level of not only commitment but the level of interest in helping to support the legacy of Pat Tillman," Pate said. "We've had a number of military veterans and groups that have come out to support. That was really impressive to me because I put on Arizona State alumni events all the time ... but we hadn't had the military support before. That aspect was really impressive.
"It's more than just the alumni that participate. It's the locals that participate in this event. It's the people that Pat Tillman meant something to them -- whether it's what he stood for as an American or what he was as an athlete."
And in New York, the event has grown so large it takes three people to coordinate it. Jason Alberts, Michael Peters and Colin O'Donnell work together to put on the run that starts at Manhattan's Pier 84, follows the West Side Highway and ends at the former site of the World Trade Center.
The shadow run has grown so big that Ernst & Young is a title sponsor through its Veterans Network. The NFL league office also is backing 20 runners in the field.
"The (Ernst & Young) sponsorship gave us seed money for bibs and chips and made us competitive with all of the other fun runs in New York City," Peters said. "It also gave us the visibility to access exposure and to drive participation, which has doubled over last year."
Alberts said he's not surprised by the rapid growth of the New York shadow run because of Tillman's legacy.
"People have a feel for or a bond with what Pat stood for," Alberts said. "I think people respect everything that Pat stood for. I think a lot of it is most people would participate in the Tempe run if they could, but a lot just want to participate to help the foundation."
Peters' goal is to grow the New York run as big as the Tempe run, even though all three say it takes hundreds of hours along with their other careers to coordinate it.
"As we continue to grow (sponsorships), I don't think there's any reason we can't make this a signature event for the Pat Tillman Foundation."
Flynn applauds the efforts of the New York shadow run trio, who even put on a fund-raising event after the run with proceeds going to the Tillman Foundation.
"When you have volunteers like those guys, it makes our job incredibly easy," Flynn said. "They're getting their own sponsorships and they're really running with it."
All shadow runs are acknowledged on the scoreboard at Sun Devil Stadium during Pat's Run as well as in the race program.
The growing number of participants in shadow runs makes Flynn optimistic that one day larger simultaneous runs could be held in a number of large cities and coordinated by the Tillman Foundation staff.
"We're so grateful that people all around the country and some of our troop runs are honoring Pat's legacy," Flynn said. "It's really grown in to a global celebration and we're just grateful that our little race in Tempe has grown."
2014 PAT'S RUN SHADOW RUN SITES
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Austin, Texas
- Boise, Idaho
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Columbus, Ohio
- Flagstaff, Arizona
- Fort Worth, Texas
- Fresno, California
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
- New York
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Portland, Oregon
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- San Antonio, Texas
- San Diego
- San Francisco, California
- San Jose, California
- Savannah, Georgia
- Seattle/Tacoma, Washington
- Spokane, Washington
- St. Louis
- Washington, D.C.
- Yuma, Arizona