3rd annual run to honor Pat Tillman's legacy Saturday, more than 2,000 miles from where it began

3rd annual run to honor Pat Tillman's legacy Saturday, more than 2,000 miles from where it began

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - 50 people and one porta-potty.

That's all former marine Joel Jackson had in 2016 when he decided to start a Pat Tillman shadow run in Charleston in 2016. He created a 2.1-mile square route around Daniel Island and ran it twice.

Two years later, Jackson and race coordinators are expecting more than 300 people to turn out for the 3rd annual event Saturday morning at MUSC Health Stadium.

"We just did it," Jackson said of the first run two years ago. ""It's still one of my favorite runs because it was kind of like Pat. You know, we'll just do it any way. We're just going to go do it."

The run is one of 30 around the country Saturday in honor of Tillman with the largest run topping over 40,000 people where Tillman went to college in Tempe, Arizona. The former Arizona State star was taken in the 7th round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he walked away from millions of dollars in contract money to join the Army and fight in Afghanistan.

The runs around the country raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, which gives out highly-coveted scholarships to armed forces veterans.

Jackson grew up in the Detroit, Michigan area before moving to Cary, North Carolina in 1989. Fresh out of high school, he joined the Marines in 1992.  He was stationed at Parris Island, Quantico and Camp Lejeune before leaving in 1996.

His life was changed permanently when he heard about Tillman giving up his NFL contract.

"I didn't really hear about him until he decided to quit the NFL," he said. "That caught a lot of veterans' attention. That's a big deal to us, it's a big deal to Americans too, but for veterans, it's a real big deal. We all raised our hand and signed up and did the same thing, but none of us ever saw someone turn down a $29 million contract to go join the Marines and I think that's what is very unique about him. "

On April 22, 2004, Tillman was killed in action by friendly fire and Jackson decided to send an email to Tillman's brother-in-law Alex Garwood. After some correspondence, Jackson decided to pour out his heart to Garwood about what Tillman meant to him.

Garwood forwarded that email to Tillman's mother less than a week after he was killed when something incredible happened.

"Pat's mom called me at work," Jackson said. "I still remember the 408 area code and I was like 'Who is this calling me so late?' I knew it was a northern California area code but I was in North Carolina. There she is and this was right after he died. She called and said 'hey, Alex sent your email to me and I really want to thank you' and that was a big deal for me for a variety of reasons. "

"I mean here's this mom whose son is just on the news 24/7. Here she is picking up the phone, I'm sure I'm not the only person she called that day. She picked up the phone, not emailing, but picking up the phone and calling whoever it was that probably emailed, a variety of different people that knew Pat. That's the kind of family he grew up around and it spoke volumes to me about the way the Tillman's run their life and the quality of people they are."

At that point, Jackson decided to dedicate a portion of his life to making sure everybody who wants to know who Tillman was could get that opportunity.

BONDED OVER A MEAL

Several years later, Jackson was living in Charleston and became friends with Billy Hall Jr., whose family runs the famous downtown chophouse as well as Rita's, SNOB and High Cotton. Jackson visited Halls often and the pair became friends before finding common ground in a respect for Tillman.

Hall was the director of operations for the University of Utah football program before moving on to a similar role with the San Francisco 49ers in the early 2000s.

"We had a couple 49ers guys who were Arizona State grads and when they started the Tillman shadow run in San Jose where Pat went to high school, we all ran it," Hall said. "A lot of the 49ers guys were involved and we all went over there and it's just something I kept up with."

Hall also helped secure the proper permits required to hold the run in Charleston, according to Jackson. He was there with many Hall's Chophouse staff during the first run in 2016.

"It's a special day not only because my father was in the military, but because of how Pat went from the NFL to the military and he leaving so much money to fight for our country," Hall said. "I mean I wish I could be anywhere close to what he has done."

Hall's ties to the Utah program gave the pair a chance to travel to Tempe, Arizona together to see the Sun Devils play the Utes in football and meet with race officials to help getting the Charleston shadow run off the ground.

While there, they met with Arizona State men's basketball and golf sports information director Doug Tammaro. who co-founded the first Pat's Run in Tempe 14 years ago alongside Garwood and former ASU athletic trainer Perry Edinger.

Tammaro knew Tillman well during his time at ASU and knew him personally into his time in the NFL. He gave Jackson a tour of the Tillman Tunnel when he visited and the two still exchange emails about logistics of the shadow run.

"I was just amazed," Tammaro said of Jackson. "There are a lot of people who get inspired by Pat and do wonderful things and have stepped up and have stepped up for 13 years but when a veteran does it? It's just so special."

To Tammaro's knowledge, there isn't another non-alumni veteran who is in charge of Pat's shadow run. Jackson added the Charleston shadow run was No. 2 among all 30 shadow runs across the country last year, trailing just the New York shadow run. He hopes one day the run will reach more than 1,000 participants.

"It means so much to us that someone like him would do so much to help," Tammaro said. "That to me is special, that's not to say other people doing stuff isn't special, but when a veteran like that goes out of his way to keep this going? It's a big-time circle."

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Jackson's passion for honoring Tillman is most easily identified in one facet of his life. Ask his 8-year-old son what his middle name is, and he would and he would answer, "Tillman".

As in Chase Tillman Jackson, another lasting legacy of Pat Tillman which showcases part of the idea behind the run. The event can be used as a tool for conversation among the generation after generation when they ask "Who was Pat Tillman?"

The elder Jackson said it wasn't too much of a conversation with his wife.

"It was just a matter of do I name his first name "Tillman" or his middle one because it was going to be one or the other," he said. "Not too much debate there."

Register for the race online here. Jackson also said the event will still accept walk-ups to register Saturday morning until 8 a.m. in front of MUSC Health Stadium. The price is $40 plus tax for adults and $10 plus tax for kids 12 and under.

For those who have paid and pre-registered, sign-in begins at 7:30 a.m. and all pre-registered runners are asked to arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. A group photo will then be taken on the field followed by a short video about Tillman's life. The race itself begins at 9:15 a.m.

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