by Charlie Engle
My friend Chris Roman signed me up for a race he had already entered called “1 Day for the KIA” that took place on the campus of Ohio State University on April 11, 2015. Chris likes to have company when he is suffering and I am a willing compatriot for his wacky version of having fun. I never know exactly what to expect when Chris has one of his “good ideas”, but he really picked a winner this time.
When I was handed my race packet, it had the usual goodies in it; race number, tee shirt, coupons for pizza. At the bottom of the bag was a silver bracelet with some writing on it. My eyes aren’t what they used to be so I held the bracelet as far away from my face as I could, just so I could read it. Etched in the metal was the name Army Pfc. Omar Torres and the date August 22, 2007. And then… KIA. I never met Pfc. Torres. I knew nothing about him except what this bracelet told me…that he died in Iraq.
Chris and I arrived on campus a little late so we were scurrying around before the start of the event, trying to get our gear organized and our minds prepared to run for 24 hours. I dropped the silver bracelet back into the bag and didn’t give it much thought again until later that night when 908 luminaries were placed along the edges of the running route. As darkness fell and the luminaries glowed, I found myself thinking about Pfc. Torres, wondering who he was and what happened to him. His name was written on one of the 908 luminaries but I never found him. In the course of looking, I saw the names of other men and women who had died in combat, all of them had attended Ohio State University at some point. The vast majority appeared to have died in WWll but there were also many from WWl, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. I have run in many events in my life, lots of them with great causes but I have never seen a more powerful representation of purpose than those 908 glowing names. It was humbling and motivating, to say the least.
The race itself was very well organized by co-directors Duck Yim and Adam Ingram. The aid station was stocked with supportive happy people and plenty to eat and drink. The beautiful .711 mile loop meandered through a huge green space on campus. Over the 24 hour period, we were entertained by Frisbee football, slack line walkers, sunbathers and the occasional inebriated student making his wobbly way back to the dorm. The weather was idyllic and the cause was more than worthy, so everyone was in great spirits. A few personal records were set and a good amount of money was raised by the solo runners and the relay teams. A number of military veterans, old and young, came out to cheer us on and it gave the runners a chance to accept praise and to say thank you to those who served, even as we honored those who sacrificed everything.
It wasn’t until a few days after I returned home that I picked up my race goodie bag again. There was the silver bracelet, patiently waiting for me to take a closer look. A few minutes of research informed me that Pfc. Omar Torres was only 20 years old when he was killed by an explosive device during combat operations in Iraq. He had been a sophomore at Ohio State when he was sent to war. I have my own sophomore in college in North Carolina and I couldn’t even imagine losing him so my thoughts went immediately to Pfc. Torres family and friends. As I dug deeper, I found out that a school and a street had been named in honor of this special young man. The more I learned, the more amazed I was at the number of lives that had been touched by his life and his death. He had not died in vain, that was for certain.
1 Day for the KIA was a special event and I would go back to it anytime. Chris and I were there to run for a good cause but as happens so often, we were the ones who benefitted the most. That silver bracelet sits on my desk now and it will remain there as a reminder of that day and of Pfc. Torres. It will also serve as a reminder that when Chris Roman calls me again, I will say yes to joining him for another adventure.