For Pamela Millonzi of Mount Prospect, participating in the Got Freedom? race Sunday in Arlington Heights was about more than staying fit.
Millonzi ran in honor of her brother-in-law, Richard Ranachowski, an active member of the U.S. Air Force who is stationed in Alaska.
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"I've done this every year," said Millonzi, whose father and grandfathers also served in the military. "I think it's important to remember the people who serve our country."
Millonzi wasn't alone. More than 1,000 people took time out of their Memorial Day weekends to participate in the 10th annual Got Freedom? event, a fundraiser for local military families. The event included 5K and 10K runs, a 5K walk and, for the second consecutive year, a "tactical challenge" that added a series of basic-training exercises to the 5K run.
The event was organized by Salute Inc., a not-for-profit organization founded in 2003 by Will and Mary Beth Beiersdorf of Arlington Heights.
"It's literally been a decade of dedication," Mary Beth Beiersdorf said Sunday. "We're so grateful for how the community has stepped up to keep Salute going."
The Beiersdorfs founded the organization after Will, a Naval Reservist, was called to active duty following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, leaving Mary Beth alone to run their home and take care of their three children.
Friends and neighbors rallied to help get the Beiersdorfs through a difficult time, and when Will returned home, he and his wife decided to start Salute as a way to give back to other military families.
Sunday's run/walk was attended by a number of dignitaries, including former Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder, current Mayor Thomas Hayes (who ran in the event) and Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been a supporter of Salute Inc. from the beginning.
Before the start of the run, Quinn told the assembled runners and walkers that they represent the "best of Illinois" and congratulated Salute Inc. for 10 successful years. Mulder, who recently retired from village service after spending 20 years as mayor, said she continues to be inspired by the work the Beiersdorfs and the larger Arlington Heights community do for military families.
"This kind of event shows that the people of Arlington Heights really care and want to help out their neighbors," she said.
At the finish line, surrounded by hundreds of cheering, smiling people, Millonzi said she believes public awareness of the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families is on the rise.
"You go to these things now and you see people from all walks of life taking part," Millonzi said. "Awareness appears to be higher than ever. I really hope that continues."