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Ariz. firefighters find challenge, encouragement in Pat Tillman run

Firefighters participated in full PPE for the 4.2-mile run in Tempe

By Bill Carey

TEMPE, Ariz. — Pat’s Run marked its 20th anniversary on Saturday, drawing around 28,000 people for a 4.2-mile run or walk in Tempe.

The run celebrates the legacy of Pat Tillman, who left the NFL in 2002 to join the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. His spirit endures through the Pat Tillman Foundation and the enduring enthusiasm of the run’s participants, Cronkite News reported.

“Pat Tillman is one of the greatest inspirations in American history, certainly in Arizona history, Arizona State, the university,” Chandler firefighter Avery Armstrong said. “We take great pride in the sacrifice that he made for his country.”

The event attracted a diverse group, including military veterans, Arizona State athletes, football coach Kenny Dillingham, Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon and local firefighters and first responders.

“The guy was living the dream playing in the NFL as a professional athlete,” Valley firefighter Nik Gazda said. “Getting out here, reminding everyone to support the fall, remember the fall and not forget where we came from and what the sacrifice was to get to this point.”

For firefighters like Gazda, Pat’s Run represents a chance to honor the ultimate sacrifice. Meanwhile, for Chandler firefighter Donaldo Lopez, it offers a chance to lead. Lopez has participated in the event for more than a decade and now enjoys sharing the experience with his 9-year-old daughter.

Donaldo, his wife and Armstrong were joined by colleague Rachel Pereda, who has nearly two years in the fire service. Pereda, who first ran solo post-pandemic, was thrilled to join her peers this time.

“When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I took that as a challenge,” Pereda said. “Being a new firefighter, I look up to my mentorship and leadership. They’re the ones that have helped me and supported me. We have a great group here and a great department.”