There’s no celebration at the end of this journey. After running 243 miles from the Pentagon to Ground Zero in New York City over three days, the finish line for the 9/11 Promise Run is a sobering reminder of the reason for their trek.
“When you get there, you get hit with this shellshock of emotion because it’s absolutely everything, the stress of the run, remembering that day,” said Dani Sevel of Virginia who is taking part in the run for the second year. “The experience in itself, there’s no release of endorphins, there’s no hurrah, like ‘we just ran 243 miles.’ There’s a lot of remembrance, it’s a lot of emotions, everyone is crying.”
Sevel is one of 70 runners who left the Pentagon early Monday morning. The group is made up of several teams. One team member runs a few miles before switching places with another runner who’s been riding along in a van.
Instead of a baton, the runners hand off an American flag made up of the names of all the victims killed on 9/11. “For them, it’s not just a flag, and it’s not just a baton, they’re going to own that,” said Bill Ewald, who helps coordinate this event. “It’s going to be a part of them.”
Running with the flag was inspirational for Brian Steorts from northern Virginia. “When you’re tired and you need some motivation, it’s easy to get that when you look up and remember why you’re holding what you’re holding,” he said. As a former member of the military who re-enlisted after 9/11, he’s running in part for his fellow soldiers who didn’t return from the battlefield. “I lost a lot of buddies because of 9/11, no one from New York City that day, but because of the aftermath of the aftereffects of war.”
Ek Venin of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey spent most of Monday driving for his team, but got out and ran for the final leg of the trek as the group approached the Maryland-Delaware border. “It’s our job as folks that lived through it to keep that memory alive because of what happened, so that it never happens again,” he said.
After 90 miles Monday, the runners spent the night at the Singerly Fire Company in Elkton, Md. near the Delaware border. Tuesday’s run takes them through Delaware with a swing through Philadelphia before stopping for the night at another fire station in Trenton, New Jersey. On the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the group will finish in New York.
Getting support from fire departments along the way is a way of honoring and connecting to the heroes that responded to the terror of 9/11. “These first responders are really what it’s all about,” Sevell said. “When everybody was running in the opposite direction, these guys are running into it, these guys and gals. And because of them, we were able to rebuild ourselves.”
Around midday, the runners were expected to be joined by about 100 members of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s newest recruit class and instructors as they ran along Broad Street in Philly.
Even though it’s a memorial run, it requires a high pace effort in order to cover so much ground in just three days. “These are 10 minute pace and they’re doing it up and down the hills and through these neighborhoods,” Ewald said.
In addition to honoring the victims and celebrating the first responders, the runners are also raising money. “We’re going to provide scholarships for the families and the kids that have sacrificed since 9/11, not only the first responders, but the veterans as well,” Ewald said.
It’s the first year the 9/11 Promise Run will be awarding scholarships since it started in 2016. Another first this year is a companion bike ride that will see cyclists travel from the Pentagon to Bedford, Pennsylvania near the site of the Flight 93 Memorial. That memorial marks the place where 40 passengers and crew members died on Sept. 11, 2001.