If it weren't for Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, dozens of marines, police, and civilians at the post he died defending would have perished in the April 2008 explosion.
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If it weren't for Jordan, high school students and veterans organizations wouldn't benefit from the money raised by the foundation his Gold Star mother, JoAnn Lyles, founded called In Jordan's Honor.
Lyles uses the catchphrase "amazingly woven into the lives of so many" to describe her hero son, a native of Sag Harbor.
This Sunday that hometown tapestry brings even more threads together as the inaugural Jordan's Run commences.
This won't be the first time Jordan's name is a fixture at a 5K. Friends like Patty Collins Sales and Joi Jackson Perle have celebrated the young man's bravery by honoring him in a slew of races they've run over the years. Jordan was honored with a Soldier Ride dedicated to him several years back, and Perle, Sales, and other friends wear Team Jordan jerseys at races like the Marine Corps marathon held in Washington, DC each fall.
According to Lyles, the idea for Sunday's run flowed from an informal walk held in Sag Harbor last year on Jordan's birthday, July 30. "We just put it out there, no advertising at all, and about 25, 30 people showed up after work," she recalled. The friends walked the same course laid out for Sunday – from Pierson High School through Sag Harbor Village to the memorial bridge named for the Lance Corporal, then back to Pierson, passing by Oakland Cemetery where Jordan is buried. "It's a very pretty route," Lyles opined.
"Joi and I had been kicking the idea of a run around for a few years," Sales, one of the run's organizers, noted. "Joi's the real runner."
Perle has run a dozen or more races in her Team Jordan jersey. She plans to participate again this year in the Suffolk County veterans run series, eight disparate races held throughout the county. "It's an honor that Jordan's Run has been chosen to be part of the series," she said. "That means we're honoring Jordan and all veterans."
Organizers have put out a call to homeowners and friends along the route, asking them to be sure to raise their flags Sunday morning. Lyles reported Jordan's bridge will also be lined with flags and a red, white, and blue helicopter, plus two Black Hawk choppers will be in the air during the race.
"Patty has amassed an amazing amount of raffle prizes from Montauk to Bridgehampton," Perle said. Participants can win a cooked lobster dinner for four, delicious Sweet Gabriel cupcakes, T-shirts, and gifts and goodies from such local establishments as Montauk Brewing Company, Bermuda Bikes, and Hampton Free Ride. There are restaurant gift cards galore, Sales said, and "all kinds of fun stuff." When runners register for the race, their bib number becomes their raffle ticket, so many participants will win prizes.
Lyles hopes to create a festive atmosphere at Pierson on race day. A local food truck will be on hand, and there will be activities like face painting for kids.
Over the years since Jordan's death, Lyles has had the opportunity to meet other Gold Star families, as well as members of her son's platoon. Some will be on hand on Sunday, travelling from homes all over the country. Some owe their lives to the Navy Cross recipient. Others are doing "virtual runs" by registering locally, then crafting a course in their own hometowns. "These young men, they completed their service and started their lives, some going to college, some getting married and having kids of their own, but that connection is still there," Sales said.
As of last weekend, just over 150 runners/walkers had signed up for Sunday's 5K. "For our first outing, I think that's pretty good," Lyles affirmed.
"I think it's going to be great," Perle enthused. "We have a lot of families coming, people are forming teams. People love Jordan and they want to support him. This is a real tight-knit community and you can see by how many people have stepped up to help. In the end, I think everybody's going to have a good time and feel happy when they come out."
To make the event extra special, organizers decided to skip the usual medals for winners. Instead, first finishers will receive a set of dog tags inscribed with the run logo, Jordan's picture, and Lyles's catchphrase.
If it weren't for Jordan Haerter, a certain sedentary editor with a weekly track record of zero miles, wouldn't be trying to haul her ancient hinder across the finish line Sunday morning.
Will there be medals for least fit/last place finishers?
"No," said Lyles.
"I'll see what I can do," said Sales.
Registration takes place Saturday evening at Pierson from 6 to 8 PM, or on the day of the run beginning at 7 AM, race time is 8:30 AM. Register online by visiting jordansrun.itsyourrace.com.
To learn more about Jordan, visit www.injordanshonor.com.