‘We’re here because Pat lived’: Tempe gears up for 20th annual Pat’s Run, in honor of Pat Tillman

Participants young and old will join the thousands taking part in the iconic 4.2-mile Pat’s Run around ASU’s Tempe campus Saturday. (File photo by John Cascella/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – In what has become an April ritual and a highlight of the Valley’s sports scene, approximately 30,000 people will flood the streets around Arizona State’s Tempe campus Saturday morning to participate in the 20th annual Pat’s Run, honoring fallen hero Pat Tillman.

As of Friday morning, more than 24,000 people had registered for the race, while more than 4,000 people signed up to participate virtually.

The 4.2-mile run was first held in 2005 by friends and family who wanted to honor the legacy of Tillman, a linebacker for Arizona State (and later an Arizona Cardinals safety for four seasons) who wore No. 42 for the Sun Devils while leading ASU to the Rose Bowl in 1997.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Tillman put his NFL career with the Cardinals on hold and enlisted in the U.S Army with his brother, Kevin. While on a tour in Afghanistan with the Army Rangers in 2004, Tillman’s unit was ambushed and he was killed by friendly fire.

Runners cross the finish line of the 4.2-mile course at the 19th Pat’s Run, carrying on the spirit of former ASU linebacker Pat Tillman. (File photo by John Cascella/Cronkite News)

“We wanted to do something that would make a difference, make people feel good, and bring the community together to celebrate Pat, and that’s really where it began,” said Christina Hundley, Tillman’s longtime friend who co-founded Pat’s Run after his death.

When the first race started in 2005, there were about 5,000 participants with a very simple start line highlighted by a balloon arch.

“Seeing it grow to this huge production that is on one Saturday morning every April in Tempe is just absolutely outstanding to see what it’s become,” Hundley said. “(To) have 30,000 people involved on site day of race and over 500 volunteers, it’s an amazing day to see what it’s grown into.”

For some it may be their first Pat’s Run, while many others have been participating since the very beginning.

Terry Armer, who began running in the event 20 years ago, is back again for 2024.

“I do a lot of races, but this is one event that I put on my calendar every year and now we have a big group,” Armer said.

For Armer, “(It’s) what Pat gave for the country and everything else,” that means so much to him.

With an up-close view for two decades, Armer has watched generations of families participate in the event that has become a Valley favorite.

“There’s a lot of people like mom and dad, and then their kids started, and even third generations,” Armer said.

Luigi Nodino, a first time runner for Pat’s Run, will be running alongside his wife and co-workers.

“I want to show support for the foundation (and) the event itself,” Nodino said. “It’s an event for all of us to come together and partake in something good for everybody and something fun.”

Participants pay between $42-$55 depending on when they sign up.

Aside from running the race in Tempe, it gives the foundation an avenue to raise more funds that support the Tillman Scholars and the Tillman Foundation.

Katherine Steele, the CEO of the Pat Tillman Foundation, was selected as a Tillman Scholar in 2014.

“It’s a full-circle moment for me to actually be back here now in this position and be able to say, you know, let me give back in a way to the foundation for what they gave me 10 years ago,” Steele said.

Thousands of runners will take to the streets around Arizona State's Tempe campus for the 20th annual Pat's Run, honoring fallen hero Pat Tillman. (File photo by John Cascella/Cronkite News)

Thousands of runners will take to the streets around Arizona State’s Tempe campus for the 20th annual Pat’s Run, honoring fallen hero Pat Tillman. (File photo by John Cascella/Cronkite News)

The foundation is inching closer to 1,000 Tillman Scholars who want to honor Pat’s legacy.

“It helps them go back to school after being in the military to do great things and that’s really special,” Steele added.

The Pat Tillman Foundation has invested more than $34 million dollars for Tillman Scholars through scholarships and leadership development. Tillman Scholars receive military scholarships, a global community and lifelong leadership development.

The scholarship is available to active duty service members, veterans, and military spouses.

Arizona State plays a significant role in Pat’s Run.

“ASU is the reason we’re here,” Hundley said. “Without their partnership with the athletics department and all the personnel that we’ve been working with for 20 years now, this wouldn’t happen.”

In addition to the event in Tempe, there are several cities across the United States where the ASU alumni association hosts Tillman Honor Runs, including Atlanta, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, and Tacoma, Washington.

“There’s this energy in the air on race morning when everybody, 30,000 people, are standing in corrals really rallied all around one person,” Steele said. “All of us are here because Pat lived.”

Symbolically, the race ends on the 42-yard-line at Mountain America Stadium, home of the Sun Devils.

“I would ask people to just take a pause and honor why we’re here,” Hundley said. “That we lost a friend and a patriot that served our country and also just to remember that this is all in support of current military members and spouses and scholarships for them. To make themselves better and make the world better in the work that they do out in the community.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hannah Pedeferri expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and communications. Pedeferri has interned as a sports broadcaster at Varsity Sports in Phoenix.