Our Article featured on Runner’s World Magazine’s Website
by Mandy Manno (Tampa, Fla.)

As he faded in and out of consciousness, Marine Lt. Col. Ty Edwards remembers thinking he was about to die on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Edwards, 39, had just been shot in the head during an ambush. His injuries were devastating. He was unable to speak and was paralyzed over much of his body.

Minutes ago he was conducting a vehicle patrol en route to a voting registration site in a small Afghan village not far from the Pakistan border. His attackers hid in a ridge and began firing at them. Lt. Col. Edwards jumped out of his armored Humvee to assist the Afghan soldiers riding in the back of pickup trucks ahead of him. That’s when the bullet penetrated his helmet, tore through his skull, and lodged in the back of his helmet. He credits his Afghan interpreter, Hospital Corpsman 2d Class Stephen Albright, and 1stL Sean McQuiston with saving his life. “I remember Hakimi and Doc Albright coming to drag me off. Meanwhile 1stLt McQuiston was calling in the medevac request. Each of them was wounded during the ambush but they all performed like true professionals that day,” he said.

“When you are in the Marine Corps and in particular the infantry, physical fitness just becomes a way of life. So I had always been a runner as way to keep in condition.” In 2005 he began training for triathlons when he was attending the Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. He competed in 2 triathlons an Olympic distance and a sprint. “I really loved triathlons not just for the competition but the camaraderie and discipline. It appealed to me for a lot of the same reasons that I joined the Marine Corps.”

Lt. Col. Edwards and his family have made Tampa, Florida, their home so that he can receive rehabilitative treatment at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. In the spring of 2010, they choose my neighborhood to live in and are just five doors down. I noticed we had new neighbors, but I didn’t know much about them. Little did I know how much their story was going to affect me.

I’m in my tenth year of running, racing everything from 5-Ks to marathons and adventure and trail runs. At my first meeting with Lt. Col. Edwards and his wife, they mentioned that they had seen me out running. Lt. Col. Edwards told me he was a runner and tri-athlete. We started to chat about racing and exchanged stories. I told him my dream of one day having the courage to do a triathlon. Then, he promptly turned around and was gone. Anna, his wife, said, “Oh, I bet he went to get his book.” Next thing I know, he was back outside with a stack of books on triathlons in his lap, and he said to me, “Here, take these. I will no longer be needing them.”

Lt. Col. Edwards is still in a wheelchair working really hard to be able to walk again. I walked away with a large lump in my throat, but more than anything I walked away with big dose of inspiration. I knew that the torch had been passed and that I had to do a triathlon soon. So the training began, and I completed two over the course of that summer. I had conversations with Ty and Anna about charities that work with veterans that could use help from my friends and me. I knew some how I wanted to honor him, but I just didn’t know how!

In February 2011, while I was looking online at children’s books, I stumbled upon the book, The Long Run by Matt Long. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one weekend. It’s an amazing inspirational story about a New York City firefighter who was a runner and tri-athlete that was hit and run over by a charter bus. He shouldn’t have survived, but he did. The book chronicles his journey to recovery and how he was able to hit the road running again. The entire time I read this book I couldn’t help but see many parallels to what I always imagined Lt. Col. Edwards had gone through on his road to recovery. I was so inspired by this book I started to tell all my friends about the amazing story, and then it led me to a foundation that Matt Long created called the I Will Foundation. Their mission is to help people overcome challenges caused by life altering injuries or illnesses.

I loved and believed in what they were doing, and the stories of hope on their site were inspiring. I searched for a race thinking that I really wanted to compete in one that benefited the foundation, but my search turned up empty. The next morning started like any other. I went straight to the coffee pot, and, as I walked away from the kitchen with my cup of energy, it hit me like a bus (no pun intended). Lt. Col. Edwards, The Long Run, the I Will Foundation, 5-K races. This was it!!! I should coordinate a race that would be called the I Will Run 5-K. We have James A. Haley Veterans Hospital just a few miles from our community. There are so many people right here in our own backyard that have been affected by this war and could use a little inspiration and something to lift their spirits.

I immediately called Catherine Pacifici, the soon-to-be co-race director for the event, and said, “I have an idea. Tell me if you think I’m crazy!” Thank goodness she didn’t, and so our dream was born. Over the next couple of weeks we hashed out some preliminary plans and ideas. I knew that I had to have Matt Long and Lt Col. Edwards on board. Fortunately for us they both agreed that we could use their story and the “I Will” run grew wings and started to take off. Catherine and I have often talked about how you never know when or where you will find inspiration or inspire someone else to tackle a new challenge. I certainly didn’t realize how 9/11 would ultimately affect my life and certainly didn’t know what was in store last spring when I met the Edwards, but I’m certainly glad that it did and I can call them my friends. The I Will Inspire Run/Walk/Wheel 5-K race is currently scheduled for Feb. 18, 2012, and we can’t wait to see how many people we inspire to get out there run!!