Honoring a Hero: Jacksonville’s annual 5k Heroes Run

By: Karassa Stinchcomb and Michael Card

Runners of all ages participated in this year’s 9/11 Heroes Run 5k, to honor
those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. The 5k is in honor of Travis Manion. Manion died Apr. 29, 2007 in Afghanistan from a sniper attack.

Manion’s family started the Travis Manion Foundation to continue his legacy, “If not me, then who.”

Jordan Denby, 23, is a firefighter from Jacksonville, and was 19 years old when he ran in his first Heroes Run 5k. His adopted dad, Brien Marx, is a firefighter, and after running in the 5k, Denby knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“I went out to the run and saw all the firefighters with their gear on and the big, giant American flag, and it was pretty much over for me then,” Denby said. “I signed up for EMT School that very next day.”

This year, Denby decided to run the race in his bunker pants and with a full air tank. The pants and air tank added 30 pounds to his weight.

Although he was only six years old when Sept. 11 happened, he knew he wanted to be a first-responder when he grew up.

“There’s really no other feeling like being able to get that surge of adrenaline, and get a call and you’re doing CPR on someone, or running into a burning building and saving people’s lives,” Denby said. “There’s nothing in this world that describes helping people.”

Every day, first-responders, like Denby, risk making the ultimate sacrifice. On Sept. 11, 343 first-responders made that sacrifice. Their families were left to grieve and honor their loved ones in their own ways.

Valerie Gambino walked the 5k while holding the Flag of Heroes. The flag has every first-responders’ name who died on Sept. 11. Gambino’s Brother, Thomas Gambino Jr., died while responding in the South Tower. He was with Rescue Three in the Bronx, and the last call the station received from him was on the 78th floor.

“There was no remains found,” Gambino said. “The only thing that was found was
is helmet. There was no body.”

During the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, Gambino got involved with veteran group, Project Hero, and participated in a cycling ride in New York. The cycling group rode the entirety of Long Island and ended at Ground Zero.

The group had a wreath laying ceremony for the first responders, and Gambino was across from her brother’s name, which she was unaware of before the ceremony started.

“To me, that was my closure,” Gambino said. “That was bringing him home.