Despite dressing for the occasion, walking 4 miles at midnight really wasn’t originally in the plans.
When Russ Holland Jr. said he was organizing a 9/11 remembrance run starting at midnight on the 19th anniversary of the tragedy, I knew the Powhatan Today would cover it. Putting on a 72-mile remembrance run dedicated to the law enforcement officers who died that day and doubling as a fundraiser for local first responders seemed to me a very fitting and newsworthy way to represent Powhatan County.
From the previous year, I knew how powerful this event could be. In 2019, Russ ran 343 laps at the Powhatan High School track in honor of the 343 firefighters who died that day. At midnight, Russ turned on the flashing lights he wore around his torso and set off on the dark track to complete a task that took monumental endurance.
It was impressive to see how many people had shown up that night to run or walk in honor of these fallen firefighters, including a few of Powhatan’s own dressed in full turnout gear as they walked the track. I remember thinking Darth Vader was somewhere out there in the darkness because I could hear their breathing apparatus. After capturing the beginning of the run on video, I did a few laps before going home to bed.
During this year’s midnight start, with Russ switching the venue to the Village, I thought maybe I would cover the start of the run, do a section of the 4-mile course, and then head back home to sleep. The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors meeting from the night before had only ended two hours earlier and I planned to be at Powhatan Middle School eight hours later for its Patriot Day Flag Ceremony, so getting extra sleep seemed like the logical choice. Not to mention, my average daily walks tend to last 2 to 3 miles, and that is when I have awakened up from a decent night’s sleep.
At midnight, Russ thanked people for being there, his wife Anna prayed over the event, and the names of the first four law enforcement officers were read. They were New York City Fire Marshal Ronald P. Bucca and New York Port Authority officers Christopher Amoroso, Maurice Barry and Liam Callahan. By the time I stopped back by after the middle school’s event, the photos of all the officers would be on display so you could see them and put a face to the name.
It is hard to capture in words how an event can be both solemn and joyous, respectful but celebratory. But if you can somehow reconcile those emotions in your mind, that is what it felt like standing there at midnight watching the start of this event. Yes, we were there to honor those men and women, but it also was a celebration of their lives – of who they were and how they chose to live, and ultimately die, in service of others.
A group of runners surrounded Russ, and they set off to start the event. Another group of walkers followed behind, and I joined them, again, thinking it would only be for a short while.
But as we kept walking, we kept talking. Several of them are firefighters I know and respect and I enjoyed catching up with them. The pandemic has cut down on the “just stopping by” visits, so these days it is good to grab onto any chance you have to interact with others.
I also had the opportunity to speak again with Donna Schultz-Shagena, a Powhatan runner featured in a recent issue of the newspaper because she runs races in honor of fallen soldiers, about why she was participating that night. She introduced me to Sid Busch, who has completed more than 200 marathons and was her inspiration to start running in memory of fallen military personnel.
It wasn’t a fast 4 miles. Because of the timing and the way Russ planned the course around the Village, I was able to hang back a few minutes at an intersection point and photograph him and the other runners a little over a mile into their second lap, which started at 1 a.m.
Finally, I made my way back to the Powhatan Rescue Squad grounds and my car and began the slow drive home (deer are no joke at that time). I didn’t feel like listening to music and there was no one to call. So I just drove in silence, thinking about the day ahead and the need for remembrance.
It was a long day, but a good one. It was amazing to see the runners and walkers circling the Village throughout the day and then witness that final walk from the courthouse to the rescue squad honoring first responders.
I found out at the end of the day that Russ couldn’t complete all 72 miles because running on the concrete caused his knee to seize up. I know it was a disappointment for him, but I appreciated how he said he quickly got over himself because the day wasn’t supposed to be about him.
“It was actually kind of a blessing to be stopped and watch the last few laps unfold and realize the people around me really have taken that vision and were pushing it. I don’t think some of them realized that I stopped,” he told me with a tired grin.
While the run was an amazing feat, it wasn’t the only Powhatan 9/11 remembrance. The middle school put on an excellent program for Patriot Day featuring Scouts BSA Troops 1823 and 1833 performing a special flag ceremony and the eighth-grade band doing a wonderful job of playing the National Anthem. I couldn’t make it there, but I got to see a video of the special tribute done at Powhatan High School by JROTC students and musician Adelaide Meade, who played Taps.
And the remembrance continued on Sept. 12 with the Freedom Flag Festival held at Three Crosses Distilling Co., which included a presentation on the Freedom Flag and its meaning.
There is nothing more I could say that would mean more than the reason so many people gathered throughout the nation and in Powhatan on Sept. 11, which is to keep honoring the fallen, including: Detective Sandra Y. Adrian, Detective Sixto Almonte, Officer Ronald G. Becker Jr. Sgt. Patrick J. Boyle, Lt. Steven L. Cioffi, Sgt. Patrick P. Murphy, Officer Ronald Evan Weintraub, Detective James Zadroga, senior court officer Thomas Jurgens, Trooper Michael J. Anson, Trooper Brian S. Falb, Investigator Paul R. Stuewer, Special Agent Dennis Patrick McCarthy, Special Agent Melissa S. Morrow, Deputy U.S. Marshal Kenneth J. Doyle and Deputy U.S. Marshal Zacarias Toro Jr.
Honoring these people for who they were, how they lived, and how they died is important. Nineteen years later, we still remember.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.