Teachers honor Tillman’s legacy at Sureño School

By Doug Snover

Nine miles, he said. Set yourself a goal of nine miles. And then he was gone.

On Saturday, April 16, Gina Bertocchi, kindergarten teacher at Kyrene del Sureño Elementary School, will run about halfway to that goal for her friend, Pat Tillman, the football player turned Army Ranger who died in Afghanistan almost exactly one year earlier.

“Pat was a friend of mine. He volunteered here (at Sureño) for about six years. He read to the kids. Everybody got pretty attached to him,” Bertocchi explained.

“I ran in a 5K race, and Pat was always telling me to get past nine miles. He kept telling me if I could just get past nine miles, then you are into it mentally.”

That kind of dedication to worthy goals marked Tillman’s life.

Pat’s Run is being organized by the Pat Tillman Foundation “to celebrate, develop and promote your own personal growth . . . (to) reach your potential and enrich the quality of life as we honor Pat and all his fellow fallen soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” according to the www.PatsRun.com website.

The Foundation's guiding principle is “to carry on Pat’s legacy of action by inspiring and supporting others toward positive change.”

More than 2,000 participants have signed up for Saturday’s 4.2 mile run/walk honoring Tillman.

A course has been laid out on the Arizona State University campus, where Tillman played college football and later professional football for the Arizona Cardinals.

The course starts on Packard Drive, just east of Sun Devil Stadium, does an end run around Tempe Town Lake, and finishes at the 42-yard line on Frank Kush Field, inside Sun Devil Stadium.

Why the emphasis on the number “42?”  That’s the number Tillman wore when he played football at ASU. The university retired number “42” after Tillman’s death.

Coincidentally, 42 Sureño staff members and their families are expected to run Saturday to honor Tillman.

The teachers have formed a running club they named the “PT Cruisers” to honor Tillman. The group runs Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.

“We just started a running club for teachers after school. The students have one and we just decided to start one for the teachers. We’re kind of challenging ourselves.” Bertocchi said.

Bertocchi said her students at Sureño became so attached to Tillman over the years that one time they signed a football to give to him instead of the other way around.

Tillman often brought signed items to distribute to the students or donate for fund-raisers at Sureño, 3375 W. Galveston, Chandler.

Students built up points by reading to “earn” a visit from Tillman, she said. “He usually didn’t come until after the football season because he was so busy.”

Some of those students will be among the 42 “PT Cruisers” running at ASU on Saturday to honor good friend Pat Tillman. Number 42.