“The Navy SEALs is a very close-knit family,” said Ed Stewart, 62, of Green Tree, a former SEAL, who retired from the military in 1993 and organized Saturday's race. “When you go through what we went through as SEALs, you form a bond that is inseparable.”
About 100 racers participated, with the money split between the Navy SEALs Foundation and the “31 Heroes Project,” established to help support families of fallen military and named in honor of 31 members of the military who died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.
None of those on board were from the Pittsburgh area, but among those lost were 17 SEALs, and their sacrifice resonated with SEAL veterans here.
“So when I learned that these races were held last year in San Diego and Oahu (Hawaii), I contacted the organizers about having a race on the East Coast,” Stewart said.
Those on the helicopter were on their way to assist Army Rangers engaged in fierce combat.
Money raised by race registration fees and sponsorships as well as a dinner Saturday night at the Sen. John Heinz History Center is split between Snowball Express, which assists children of fallen military, and the Travis Manion Foundation, which assists the families of fallen military members.
One racer, Brandon Myers, 25, of Elizabeth Township, will begin SEAL training next month, but he already feels an affinity with them.
“Every SEAL I've run into has treated me like one of their own,” Myers said. “I can't think of another place more important for me to be today than out here doing something to support the families of soldiers who sacrificed so much.”
Cindy Leszunov, 57, of Imperial said she participated in the race to honor her father, John Felker, 84, a retired Navy captain.
“It's important to support members of all branches of the armed forces because they did a lot for us,” said Leszunov. “I truly believe that without them, we wouldn't have the freedom we enjoy.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said Saturday's race and dinner are great ways to support military families.
“While the military covers some of the expenses their families face, there's so much more all of us can do to help,” said Murphy, a Navy reservist. “I came out today to show my support for this cause and hopefully spread the word about the importance of these kind of events.”
Tony LaRussa / 412-320-7987 / firstname.lastname@example.org.