The late Pat Tillman, Army Ranger and Arizona Cardinal, has inspired a group of NFL wives to action
Thursday is Veterans Day, an opportunity for Americans to honor those who have served the country in the military and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
It is also a little over six months since the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.
Tillman, of course, was an NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals before he voluntarily gave up that lucrative career to follow his dream of joining the Rangers. On April 22, 2004, he was killed in battle in Afghanistan while helping the U.S military fight the war on terror.
Though he actively avoided drawing attention to himself after joining the Rangers, Tillman's life and selfless career decision affected countless people. Even in death, his legacy lives on through the Pat Tillman Foundation, which seeks to inspire and support others who are striving to promote positive change in themselves and the world around them.
Tillman's influence also lives on in the NFL among his former teammates and friends, and even those who didn't cross his path but believe in what he stood for.
And that is the origin of the 'Race for Pat.'
The Race for Pat idea was first envisioned by Sally Gardocki, wife of Pittsburgh Steelers punter Chris Gardocki. Sally formed the program with the hope of bringing all NFL players' wives together to promote and sponsor the charity event in each NFL community in order to honor Tillman and support the foundation in his name.
The Gardockis are friends of Ken and Heidi Dilger, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end and his wife. Ken and Chris were teammates with the Indianapolis Colts from 1995-98, and the two families remain in touch. Thus, it was a natural that Heidi would be the Race for Pat representative in the Tampa Bay area. It is Heidi's goal to spread the program through the Buccaneers' community over the next six months, in order to raise meaningful funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation and its worthwhile goals.
It is the goal of the program to have a 'Captain,' in each of the 32 NFL cities, a player's wife committed to organizing the event and encouraging volunteers and donors.
"Sally was just very touched and inspired by Pat's story and wanting to do something about it," said Heidi Dilger. "So she came up with this idea. Chris has been in the league so long and they've been with enough teams that Sally was able to contact somebody on almost every team that she knew."
Those Captains are now working to get the word out in their various communities. The Race for Pat works through physical exercise and pledges tied to the completion of that exercise in certain mile/time increments. Individuals raising money for the Race for Pat can direct any specific exercise towards the Race, with donors pledging dollar amounts per mile or hour and donating such funds upon the completion of the exercise.
The success of the program will be measured in how involved members of the community become in promoting it. Since the exercise/donation format can be done by anyone on their own time, with donations sent in through NFLWives.net, the exact monetary figures raised in each community will be difficult to track. Dilger believes in the cause and its namesake, however, and feels certain members of the Bay area community will want to build on what Tillman started. It's a grassroots program, springing originally from Sally Gardocki's respect for one man's sacrifice and hopefully spreading throughout 32 NFL communities.
"This is a way to honor all of the troops, but also specifically Pat and what he gave to the cause," she said. "What Race for Pat wants to do, the mission statement, is to carry forward's Pat's legacy by encouraging others to promote change in themselves and the world around them."
That seems especially relevant as we recognize servicemen and women, past and present, on Veterans Day. Though Tillman's path to the military was more unusual than most, the sacrifices he made were essentially the same that millions have made before him.
"It's overwhelming to me that there are so many people who have sacrificed so much for others," said Dilger, whose husband joined a group of Buccaneers who visited the nearby MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday. "It's really mind-boggling. I can't find the words to express it enough."
She can find support, however, both from other Buccaneer players and their wives and from concerned citizens in the Bay area. As Dilger points out, it's an easy program in which to participate.
"Many of us are looking for reasons to stick with our exercise programs, and this is a great one," she said. "I just want to encourage everyone to join the NFL wives in this effort."