SALT LAKE CITY -- The 12th annual Salt Lake City Marathon will be held Saturday, and for the first time a national organization for veterans is participating in the 26.2-mile challenge.
Team Red, White and Blue (or Team RWB) is a non-profit group made up of veterans, family and friends of service personnel and supporters of veterans killed in action. Saturday, they’ll run the race as a relay. But, instead of passing a baton, they pass the American flag in tribute.
Teota Coppock’s only child, Army Sgt. Brandon Parr, was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.
"I'm running for my son, so mile 24 is Brandon’s mile--which will be really nice," Coppock said.
The 25-year-old father had enlisted after the events of 9/11, and he served two tours in Iraq. It was in March of 2007 that Coppock got the visit that every military parent dreads.
"The shiny black shoes are something that stays with you forever, I think; that's my memory,” she said. “I don't remember the words, but I remember the shiny black shoes, and that's a tough memory.”
She began running to cope with the grief, and she’s since run 32 marathons. This Saturday will be a bit different though, as she will be running relay style with Team RWB.
Mark Taylor, the outreach director for the team of veterans, said each participant is running in honor of a soldier.
"The American flag, starting with one runner at the beginning of the marathon, then that runner will start and run about half a mile and pick up the next runner, and during that time he's gonna be running in honor of a soldier," he said.
There are 32 runners on the team this year--runners who have experienced war, sacrifice and loss.
“When I came home from Iraq I struggled,” said Jason Comstock, a veteran participating in the relay. “It was hard. The people around you don't understand the experience and they can't relate.”
Coppock said the challenge of a marathon is something that taught her to manage grief.
"Pushing through tough things has taught me to push through grief, and then reconnecting with people that are my son’s military family is a huge help for me," she said.
In addition to the flag, Coppock will run the race with her son’s military ID tags. She wears the dog tags every day--ever since the men with the shiny black shoes came to her door.
"I carry him through my races,” she said. “I carry him every day, and when things get hard, he's right there with me, so it’s nice.”
The race starts at 7 a.m., and spectators are welcome and encouraged. Click here for a map of the course and details of the race.