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Running with Purpose

Portland, OR--June 26, 2010 -- On the streets of the east side of Portland, Oregon where mini-marts and small coffee shops stake their claim, runners gather at Floyd Light Middle School in the wee hours of the morning to run not for personal glory, but for the dreams of others.
The runners sport fresh haircuts and newly printed t-shirts representing different local law enforcement agencies from the greater Portland area. A somewhat unlikely partner, local airmen from the 142nd Fighter Wing have joined forces with these law enforcement groups to take part in the more than 25 year-old fundraising tradition called the Special Olympics Torch Run.
Supporting the tremendous athletes who compete in the Special Olympics through their enthusiasm for sport, the runners have all decided to make the 8.8 mile journey on foot at a clipping pace with tennis shoes double-knotted.
Gathering over $20,000 in donations for the Special Olympics, the airmen from the 142nd Fighter Wing and 142nd Security Forces Squadron have become a vital part of this event that serves as "a culmination of a year's worth of fundraising effort," according to Allison Ellermeir, director of development for the Oregon Special Olympics Torch Run. The smiling faces of the runners as they line up to run hints at the real source of joy for the participants, being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Airmen including Staff Sgt. Jerrod Johnson, the fundraising organizer for the wing have raised money through year-long events including the Polar Plunge, where participants dip into 38-degree water and Cops on Shops, an event that places airmen on top of the roofs of local businesses to help support the Special Olympics.
"This event shows the citizen airman concept at its best," said Maj. Frank Page, Commander of the 142nd Security Forces Squadron. As members of the Oregon Air National Guard, many airmen gathered at the run also work as officers in the community, a perfect fit in the community gathered here to support the Special Olympics.
As the runners start off, they stay together in a group around a lit torch called the flame of hope as they make their way toward the finish line at the local community college. Athletes, supporters and coaches are gathered to receive the "guardians of the flame" as they made a lap around the track where athletes are ready to compete in the regional track and field trials.
58-year-old runner Michael Lyons, who runs a 7 minute mile, carried the flame on the victory lap with the group of runners amidst cheers from the spectators and joyfully lifted the torch to the edge of a metal sculpture, setting it ablaze.
Over the loudspeaker, an announcer beams: "These athletes make a difference, they show greatness and inspire greatness inside us."
The airmen devoting their time and energy to community events pass that greatness along in their actions, giving us all a sense of pride and a goal to run toward.