I remember my parents telling me that everyone knew where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot. In some ways, our generation’s Kennedy was 9/11. Kara and I were back east with our one year old Ben. We were vacationing with her family in Rehobeth and in the rental house when it happened. We were doing the morning beach routine with little kids wondering if we would ever actually make it to the beach.
Then the news came on. We watched some TV of course, and felt numb like most of you. There were exclamations of disbelief as well as quiet reflection. I could not be in the house for long so I walked to the beach and saw fighter jets patrolling the coast. I will never forget those moments. It was surreal, comforting and also sad. Was this the start of a new time? Why had we always taken our safety and stability for granted?
In addition to taking in everything that was happening, something profound struck me, the humanity of first responders. As they bravely did their job some giving all, we found out who these people were. Why does a first responder have to give all before we know who they are and worst yet before we thank them?
In the fall of 2001, Kara and I were living in Texas acting like we knew what we were doing as parents with our first-born. We had decided to move back to the Charm City to open a running store. That kid got his driver’s license today by the way. I did not know if I could but I wanted to run with everyone in Charm City on 9/11 of the following year. I wanted to show our defiance. I wanted Charm City to come together as we always do when it matters and I wanted to thank our local first responders for the job they do every day. If something like 9/11 ever happened in Baltimore the first responders of our fair city would know that there were people, good people, runners that cared about them. I am naïve enough to believe that a simple thank you matters to people.
I, like you, have witnessed a stunning evaporation of our civility in the last 15 years. In Charm City Run I hope that everyone is treated with dignity and respect and that the service is accompanied by light conversation and kindness. On 9/11 every year I wanted us all to be good to each other and really good to the men and women that would be willing to put their lives on the line every day. We as a community do a lot to tear the police down, but not runners and not on 9/11.
This was the driving motivation but we also wanted to make sure to always remember the victims and to raise money for our departments that have been strapped under the weight of shrinking budgets and higher demands. I had no idea if we could pull it off but I thought it was worthwhile. It was worth my best effort. The Baltimore Police and Fire Departments deserved it and those New York families deserved it so I went to work.
I literally called Mayor O’Malley. Of course, I did not get to talk to him but shockingly someone emailed me and said that Councilman Pugh was all things running in the city. The now mayor did not laugh at me which I appreciated. I am sure she was skeptical but she thought it was possible and asked me if I was working with Dave Cooley. I told her of course. That was not true. Dave Cooley was the owner of the Finished Product and the first race director of the Baltimore Marathon. I did know who he was. When we were thinking about opening Charm City Run, we met Dave on a trip home. He was reserved but kind and thought a new running store could work and said he was available if we had any questions down the road.
Now I did and my desperate question was would he work on the Run to Remember. I had an absurd pre-condition. It had to be on the date. In 2002, this meant Wednesday. My reasoning was simple. This day was bigger than any potential inconvenience. As a city, we needed to be there together on the day. We needed to remember on the day and we needed to thank our first responders on the day. Dave kindly gave me some wiggle-room, but his looks said no way, no how.
In short, the city got behind us, the police and fire departments got behind us and we did it. 2,200 people on a beautiful but solemn Wednesday morning September 11, 2002, came out to pay their respects, appreciate their local heroes, and be together. To this day, when the ladders are raised with the huge American flag my heart skips a few beats. Runners thank us every year because they knew someone who lost their lives on that terrible day. I am humbled by their thanks and by the entire day.
Dave and I had such an amazing experience working on the race that he merged the Finished Product into Charm City Run Events. The race after 10 years is now always on the weekend so the most people have a chance to run. A few years ago, we added an 11K for runners that want to go a little longer.
I never served my country like Dave Cooley and I am not brave enough to do what our first responders and active military do every day. I do have a profound appreciation for this country even in difficult times and I hope that the Run to Remember and Charm City Run’s many forms of community engagement can be evidenced of our collective “service”. I am fully aware that this is not the same as serving our country in the military or as a first responder but it is something and something is better than nothing.
The Run to Remember has raised over $350K. The Fund has bought AEDs, a K9 dog, supported the mounted unit and the Fallen Heroes Fund. Those are the numbers but thanking a police officer and a fire fighter is the most important thing we do. Thank you for joining us in that effort and see you for Number 16 on September 10th.
About the Author: Josh Levinson
Josh and his wife Kara founded Charm City Run 15 years ago. To learn more about their story, please click here.