Man runs to benefit victims of attacks

NEIGHBORS

October 15, 2001|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE SEPT. 11 terrorist attacks affected each of us in unexpected and personal ways. Beyond the sheer horror of the events, I have been affected most by watching and hearing about the truly selfless and inspiring actions of so many people each day. I feel a strange closeness to these heroes, but - from my living room - I'm almost as far from their reality as I possibly could be.

We are changed. I have noticed people banding together, making more time for family and friends, being more patient with each other on the roads or in a line, and strangers making more eye contact and saying a kind hello.

The Stars and Stripes are flying everywhere. People are donating time, money, blood and whatever else they can. Restaurants are collecting funds and donating profits. Corporations are making donations and matching employees' contributions. Schoolchildren and neighbors are raising our spirits with patriotic projects, vigils and fund-raising projects. The Friday after the attacks, Annapolis resident Russell Miller was on a 16-mile run (he's training for the Marine Corps Marathon later this month) mulling over the situation, his emotions, and wondering how he could help.

It was on this run that he came up with the idea of running, walking and bicycling from Washington to New York City to raise funds for local and national charities assisting in the recovery and rebuilding effort. His goal is to receive 10,000 pledges and to raise at least $30,000.

"Running has been my way of healing personally from the events of Sept. 11, and I thought if I could help others in so doing, it would be worth the effort," Miller said. "I also feel that this symbolizes how we can grow stronger through adversity."

Within three weeks, Miller incorporated the Run for Freedom Foundation as a nonprofit organization, completed the application for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, enlisted family and friends to drive a support vehicle, launched a Web site and pledge mechanism, and embarked on the journey.

He left the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 6, expecting to complete the 300-plus mile journey to New York in seven or eight days. He has posted journal entries from each day of the trip on his Web site, www.stridesandstripes.com.

Miller is asking people to pledge $3 - a penny for every mile that he travels - and to encourage others to donate whatever they can. He hopes people e-mail the link to his Web site to acquaintances. Visitors to the site can learn about his journey and direct their pledge to the charity of their choice.

I learned of Miller's efforts last week, when he was midway through his journey, through an e-mail from Elizabeth Hughes. She wrote: "Attached below is a message from one of my former next-door neighbors - a beer-swilling, lacrosse-playing, basset hound-loving lawyer who graduated from Michigan State ... this was a very nice surprise. So if you have $3.00 to spare, consider this."

Hughes made a pledge in honor of the passengers who apparently overpowered hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, Pa.

Her explanation was that "their actions really drove home each persons' personal responsibility to do what you have to do regardless of the consequences." She also left a friendly note to Miller with her pledge: "I always wondered why you didn't do a very good job of keeping the lawn mowed when you lived next door. I guess it was because you had your priorities straight."

Jerilyn Deitch of Annapolis said, "I actually do not know Russell very well. When I visited his Web site, I was so inspired by his efforts that I had to pledge. My husband and I had previously donated to the American Red Cross, but felt that Russell's mission was such a worthwhile cause and a noble thing to do.

"I'm thankful that there are people like Russell who are so willing to put their jobs and free time aside to engage in such a feat," she said.

When I contacted Miller via e-mail to ask some questions, he was in Princeton, N.J., three-quarters of the way through the trip. He had already received about 100 pledges totaling more than $5,000.

Miller says the support of his friends and family has been essential. His sister took time off to run with him the first three days. Friends have driven the support car and others have let him stay in their homes along the way.

"I am receiving 20 to 30 e-mails a day and dozens of phone calls providing ample encouragement," he said.

The corporate sponsors he enlisted include Tommy Joe's restaurant in Bethesda, owned by Alan Pohoryles, who donated all of food and drink for the trip; graphic design company Milan and Italy-based Black Sea Productions, which donated its time and talent to the Web page. Winstar, a consulting company that Miller works with, pledged time to the cause.

What's been really cool on his trip? He answered: "Leaving from the steps of the U.S. Capitol (the likely target of Flight 93), crossing the Susquehanna River, crossing the Delaware River at Washington's crossing and meeting people along the way, who I otherwise would never have met."

Also, he takes satisfaction in knowing that something that was just an idea three weeks ago is now a nonprofit foundation that will raise thousands of dollars to help in our collective recovery.

As the trip continues, Miller is starting to show fatigue. "But thoughts of the victims and their families does an amazing job of motivating me to push on," he said.

To learn more about Miller's journey, the Run for Freedom Foundation, and to make a donation, visit www.stridesandstripes.com or e-mail Miller at Russell@stridesandstripes.com.

Donations can be mailed to The Run for Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 77572, Washington, DC 20013.

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