Championing veterans from start to finish

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DAV 5K provides opportunity to support and connect with those who served

With hundreds of people cheering behind him, Air Force veteran David Lowe sped past Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on his recumbent trike the morning of Nov. 6. He was one of more than 1,500 people to run, walk, roll or ride the annual DAV 5K to honor, in person, America’s veterans. Including those who participated virtually, more than 3,300 used the occasion to support DAV’s mission.

“I woke up at six o’clock in the morning going, ‘I don’t want to do this; it’s cold,’” Lowe said at the finish line. “But … right now is the best time. Everybody’s here, and it’s fantastic.”

The camaraderie is what brought so many veterans, active-duty service members and supporters back to the starting line, one year after the 5K went virtual-only due to the coronavirus pandemic. Between in-person and virtual races, participants generated more than $130,000 to support DAV’s free, life-changing services for veterans. The event raised an additional $235,000 in sponsorships, including the presenting sponsor, Humana.

“Humana has a long-standing history with the military and is committed to the well-being of all veterans,” said Ed Sandrick, director of the Veterans Channel at Humana. “We’re proud to support the men and women who have sacrificed so much to defend our nation in partnership with DAV.

“The DAV 5K has raised funds for DAV to continue to support our ill and injured heroes while providing an opportunity to enhance their personal wellness and health,” Sandrick, a Marine veteran, added.

Capt. Ryan Hall, a nurse anesthetist serving in the Army Reserve, has participated in the 5K four times. Every year, he looks forward to meeting other service members and veterans—the people he calls “salt of the earth.”

“There’s just a bond that happens within the military that’s unmatched anywhere else,” Hall explained. “And you have a moment to spend a Saturday morning with some guys, do 3 miles and do a 5K and high-five some people and act a little silly [and] just have that bond like you used to have. It means a lot to a lot of people.”

Ohio Army National Guard Pfc. Brooke Smith, who called herself “a die-hard for America,” ran in her first DAV 5K carrying a 90-pound rucksack. She’s the first woman in her family to enlist and said she hopes she can be a role model for others.

“I remember growing up, like being little, and seeing everyone being like a GI Joe. And I love that, but you didn’t see a lot of females doing that,” she said. “So I think I can inspire younger people and show other females that you can join and you can do it.”

For Lowe, the 5K was also about giving thanks to the organization that changed his life.

While serving in the 1970s, Lowe sustained a spinal cord injury. He tried on and off for 20 years to obtain his benefits, to no avail. Lowe said he was ready to walk away from the issue, reasoning that the VA had done “good enough for me.”

But it wasn’t good enough for the DAV benefits advocates who were handling his claim. In September, he unexpectedly received years of disability back pay.

“I didn’t have any hope for anything because it’s been so long,” Lowe said. “And all of a sudden, it just happened. Without [DAV], I don’t think I would have gotten anything.”

“The DAV 5K is about honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans,” National Commander Andy Marshall said. “It’s also an opportunity to remind active and former service members that they are not alone. They have each other and they have DAV.”

As Veterans Day approached, Hall said that saying thank you is more than enough, but taking it one step further can make a lifelong difference for civilians and veterans alike.

“Make that connection with them and spend time with them and get to know them as a person as much as you can,” he said. “Those connections stay with you and stay with your heart, stay with the people that you bonded with for the rest of your life.”