The running of the second Hidden Gem Half Marathon on Sept. 11 coincided with the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania. The memory of that tragedy was present during the event.
One visible reminder was an American flag that made its way through the neighborhoods of Flossmoor, carried by two veterans running the half marathon in honor of a fallen servicewoman. Calvin Jordan of New Lenox and Sara Muncuia of Palos Heights took turns carrying the flag as they ran through the village.
Jordan, who served in the Army, said he was running for 1st Lt. Laura Walker, who died in 2005 in Afghanistan at age 24 when the Humvee she was in was hit by an improvised explosive device, according to a 2013 Washington Post story.
Walker was the first woman graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Post.
Jordan's daughter and his son-in-law also went to West Point. His daughter was a couple years behind Walker, he said, and when he asked her whom he should honor in the Sept. 11 race, she named Walker.
Muncuia, a Navy veteran, said she was a little concerned about the extra work involved in carrying the flag during a long run.
"I've always seen people carry the flag, and I never thought I could. It's harder," she said, but added that it turned out she could handle it better than she expected. "It was an absolute pleasure and honor."
The flag's presence was not the only reminder about the solemn anniversary.
Gigi Gummerson, her daughter, Gwen, and her sister, Mary Beth Vieha, were posted on Braeburn Avenue behind a line of small American flags and a pennant that said, "Never forget." The three wore matching stars-and-stripes shirts for the occasion.
They cheered as Muncuia ran past holding the flag.
Before the race began, Hidden Gem officials recognized the service of the village's first responders. Organizer Tom Dobrez, serving as race emcee, invited Police Chief Tod Kamleiter, Fire Chief Robert Kopec and Mayor Michelle Nelson to join him under the starting line banner.
Dobrez announced the creation of a memorial garden and bench in front of the Flossmoor Fire Department to honor first responders. On the north side of the bench, facing Flossmoor Road, an inscription reads, "We remember our first responder heroes of 9-11." On the south side, facing the fire department, the inscription reads, "Dedicated 9-11-2021 by the Hidden Gem Half Marathon."
"Today we wish to recognize you with more than just spoken words," Dobrez said. "The first responders of 911 went knowingly into harm's way on that fateful day. They did more than they were trained to do. We ask that you accept, on behalf of your fallen brothers and sisters, this reminder of what you and your colleagues do every day."
Nelson added her appreciation for the work of the village's first responders.
"Thank you to these gentlemen who work side by side with residents every day to support us," she said. "On Sept. 11 (2001), it was a beautiful fall morning, not unlike this morning, and first responders were called to do the unthinkable. As thousands of people were pouring out of burning buildings, they went in to save lives. Four hundred twelve first responders were lost that day, and we remember them with honor and pride."
Photos by Eric Crump and Andrew Burke-Stevenson