McDONOUGH — The sound of feet striking the pavement and motorcycle engines roaring to life broke the early morning silence Saturday as men and women united in honor of Georgia’s wounded heroes.
People from Henry and Clayton counties crowded the starting line as roosters crowed in the background to run Georgia’s Wounded Heroes second annual half marathon at Camp Fortson to help raise funds for military and public servants.
Some marathon runners sported patriotic running gear or military uniforms and packs. For some, it was dedication enough just to be able to complete a half marathon. Others carried the American flag in their hands as they ran, but for one group, dedication served in the form of gas masks.
Several runners with Team Syotos, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for SWAT operations, military vets and firefighters, hid their identities and ran the half marathon in gas masks for all public servants.
“The reason we run in a mask is it’s a symbol and that’s our statement,” said founder Sgt. Tim Lively with the Clayton County Police Department. “One of our statements and one of our mission statements says it’s in honor of those who serve or who have served, we struggle with running in gas masks to symbolize their spirit, their dedication, their duty and, most importantly, their sacrifices.”
Lively and his fellow runners sported shirts that read, “Yes what we do is hard, but what they do every day is even harder.” He said public servants are out doing extremely hard and sometimes dangerous things, and wearing a gas mask for 30 minutes is just a small way to honor their efforts.
“It’s very taxing (to run in a gas mask),” he said. “You’re losing anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of your oxygen in the gas mask. It takes a lot of training to do that.”
And that’s not the only reason people pushed for a half marathon or rode their bikes Saturday.
The air was heavy with the realization that life is fragile and a sense of pride in honoring those who have fallen in the line of duty.
“The motorcycle rally was definitely a very emotional, emotional rally,” said Georgia Wounded Heroes founder Brian Brakefield. “And that’s what we wanted, to kind of demonstrate what we talk about.”
Hundreds of motorcycles ranging from traditional Harley Davidson’s to crotch rockets and trikes stretched almost a quarter mile at Heritage Park and were lined in pairs to honor fallen Henry County officer Elgin Daniel and fallen Clayton County officer Sean Callahan.
Henry and Clayton county officers began the caravan with blue lights flashing in respect, and even one Newnan County officer joined the force.
“The route, that was another big compliment we kept getting was the route,’ Brakefield said. “Everybody was like, ‘Man, that was awesome.’ We went down to Jackson past their memorial wall, back up Hwy 42 through Hampton and Locust Grove. We hit almost every major city in the county. The ride was freaking awesome.”
Both the half marathon and memorial motorcycle ride concluded with an after party at Hooters in McDonough where there was live music, raffle prizes and, of course, beer to liven the mood.
“It was kind of like a let go and just relax and enjoy everybody’s company,” Brakefield said. “There were a lot of people who were talking getting to know each other and a lot of networking … The after party was really more of getting to know each other and putting the somber mood behind us and doing more fellowship.”
Brakefield said it was also an opportunity for everyone to see all the Georgia Wounded Heroes is involved in such as the K9 groups, run teams, the sponsoring racing team and Hooters. In fact, he said they were able to garner more volunteers by the end of the day.
“All in all, it was awesome,” Brakefield said. “We raised more than $8,000 and the turn out was great. Really the passion that people showed for what we’re doing and the happiness they showed for how each event went, that was probably the two coolest parts about it.”