Pro athlete and author David Clark, of Lafayette, had a saying: “No politics; just patriotism.”
Through his creation of the American Heroes Run in Longmont in 2010, Clark sought to hone in on this message while paying tribute to the thousands who lost their lives during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Clark died in May, six days after a routine back surgery. He was 49 years old.
This year on Sept. 11, Clark’s friends sought to carry on the race in his honor, while continuing the tradition of remembering those who died in the tragedy 19 years ago. Bill Stahl, race director, was a friend of Clark’s and wanted to continue the two-day race in Clark’s memory.
“The basis of this race was to honor first responders, to honor the lives lost in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and Shanksville (where one of the hijacked planes crashed),” Stahl said. “It’s even more applicable in today’s world, with the contributions (first responders and front-line) workers make.”
The event kicked off at 10:11 a.m. Friday with a 100-mile race at Roger’s Grove. Those who participated attempted to run 96 laps around a 1.05-mile course set up in the park. A 24-hour race started at 4:11 p.m. Friday. Stahl said roughly 80 people will participate in the next two days. Runners paid a registration fee to enter the race. Proceeds, after event expenses, are donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service charity and a 9/11 first responders fund.
Normally, the event sees more than 120 racers, but the coronavirus pandemic discouraged some participation and complicated travel for those planning to attend from out of state, Stahl said.
Stahl said Clark was originally from Rochester, N.Y., and was deeply affected by the tragedy that claimed thousands after four planes were hijacked. Two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the highest buildings in New York. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa.
The Boulder County District Attorney’s Office put out a press release Friday, encouraging people to take a moment to “honor and remember” those who died and the sacrifice many first responders made to save lives.
“As they are doing right now in response to the wildfires throughout Colorado, on September 11th,
firefighters and police officers ran towards the danger as many tried to escape from the threat of harm,” the release read.
Of the 2,977 victims killed in the attacks, the release said 412 were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center, including firefighters, police officers and paramedics.
A number of those who came to the race Friday did so with Sept. 11 and Clark in mind. Many were touched by the Lafayette man’s story of personal struggle.
Before becoming a pro athlete, Clark was 320 pounds and had a substance abuse issue. After hitting rock bottom, Clark decided to fight to improve his quality of life. He began running daily, eventually getting to the point where he could participate in marathons. Clark attempted in 2015 to break the world record for longest distance on a treadmill. He also penned several books, including the bestselling: “Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery.” Clark’s greatest legacy, however, seemed to be inspiring others.
Jason Romero, of Denver, said he knew Clark for about five years. The pair met at a race and sometimes went running together. Romero participated in the 100-mile race Friday, his first time in the American Heroes Run. He said he participated to pay homage to Clark.
“He was a great man. It’s one of those things that reminds you that no one is promised tomorrow,” Romero said. “David lived that way. That was his message: ‘Live each day the best you can.’”
Like Clark, Romero found respite in running. While struggling with depression, he turned to fitness as a way to cope.
Romero is also legally blind. At 14, he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition. Today, he can make out “the contrast” of things in front of him, but not the details. Undaunted, Romero ran 3,063 miles across America in 2016. He completed the trip in just under 60 days. Even with this accomplishment, running 100 miles is no easy feat, Romero said.
Romero scouted out the American Heroes Run course several days in advance, familiarizing himself with the terrain. His friend, Tom Hughes, also helped to serve as a guide during the race. As to how one physically prepares to run 100 miles in a day, Romero put it simply: “You run. If you want to run, you have to run a lot.”
He estimated that he runs about 2 hours a day.
Friends Amanda Byers, of Loveland, and Keith Holley, of Brighton, also knew Clark. Both set out Friday to attempt the 100-mile race. Byers, whose husband is a veteran, participated in the American Heroes Race last year and ran a marathon.
“I met Dave last year, and he inspired me to sign up this year,” Byers said.
Holley said, “I’ve done 50 milers before and it’s kind of my naturally progression to get to 100. You have to be a little crazy.”
There were many reasons to participate in the challenge, they said.
“I’m not even running for myself today,” Holley said. “I’m running for all those who aren’t here anymore — the people who can’t be here, not just the first responders, but the average people who perished. I’m also running in memory of (David). He was an amazing person, who helped mold me into the runner that I am.”
Stahl said he worked with Longmont and Boulder County Public Health officials to put in place protocols to protect runners and the roughly dozen volunteers from the spread of the coronavirus. Runners wore masks throughout the race and were encouraged to have their own snack and water tables.
Race participants, who didn’t feel comfortable attending the event, were also allowed to race their own course and submit their times virtually.
On Saturday the American Heroes Run continues. A nine hour and 11 minute run will take place at 7 a.m. Saturday. At 8:46 a.m., the time that first tower was attacked, runners will take part in a half marathon. At 9:37 a.m., the time the Pentagon was attacked, there will be a 5K run/walk.
As though Clark was there himself, the power of simply getting outside to run wasn’t lost on those participating Friday.
“I think anybody who is battling with anything, if you get out and exercise, even walking … it helps everybody and anybody,” Romero said.