Team Red, White & Blue's mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. This effort is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran's group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.
But while having lots of members and a host of chapters across the country is a great thing for a young veteran service organization, there's a challenge in keeping it all connected. That's why Executive Director Blayne Smith and his colleagues decided to link up with Team Red, White & Blue's various members with a little run among friends.
(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)
And what if this little run wasn't so little? What if it spread across the entire country?
"We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together," Smith said. "We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day ... that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal."
So in 2014, on a shoestring budget and with just a couple company reps doing most of the logistical legwork, the Old Glory Relay was born. Now spanning 4,216 miles and involving upwards of 1,300 runners and cyclists, the 2016 Old Glory Relay will see an American flag passed between participants — including veterans and their supporters — down the West Coast, across the desert Southwest, through the Deep South, and ending in Tampa, Florida, after 62 days culminating in a Ruck March on Veterans Day.
"For this year we decided to go even bigger. It's a bit more ambitious, it's a longer route but more members and more chapters will get to participate," Smith said. "There's something really powerful about running a few miles carrying an American flag. It's really invigorating to run with it and hand it off to the next person knowing you've done your part to get it across the country."
With the support of the presenting sponsor, Microsoft, along with other partners, Amazon, Westfield and Starbucks, the race began at the Space Needle in Seattle on Sept. 11. The relay will be following a route through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles through the end of the month. The relay then turns east, through Phoenix, Tucson and San Antonio before crossing the South through the Florida Panhandle to Tampa.
Team Red, White & Blue has done a ton of legwork to prepare for the relay, mobilizing local chapters to help carry the flag and get their communities energized to cheer runners along. Smith said school kids, local police and fire stations and residents along the way all turn out to motivate the runners and keep the relay going. And while the event is geared toward unifying the chapters and its members in a good cause, it's the spirit of shared sacrifice and appreciation for the men in women who served in uniform that really makes the Old Glory Relay special.
(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)
"This is what happens when you slow people down enough to move on foot through a town with an American flag and see what happens. All those human connections start to happen," Smith said. "America is a beautiful place. But the most beautiful terrain in America is the human terrain, and you don't see it if you don't slow down. And that's what this is all about."
You can support Team Red, White & Blue and the Old Glory Relay by following the Old Glory Relay website, sharing your own photos and videos with the hashtag #OldGloryRelay, and by tracking Old Glory via the "OGR Live" webpage for up-to-the-minute information on the runners' and cyclists' status.
Text OGR to 41444 to learn more and donate!