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SMITHVILLE - Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo ignited the cannon as hundreds of patriots took off from the starting line at the 9/11 Heroes 5K Run and 1-mile fun run on Saturday in the Historic Village of Smithville.

They ran past Fred & Ethel’s Lantern Light Tavern, in a gesture to express their gratitude for the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and all the lives that have been sacrificed in conflicts since. They honored firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement and the military.

They ran to say thank you. They ran to say they remembered the sacrifices made by so many who followed the same call as 1st Lt. Travis Manion, the man’s whose spirit ignited the international Heroes Run movement: “If not me, then who?”

It was a simple statement made by Manion when he was heading for his second deployment in Iraq, a deployment that he never returned home from. But, as a statement from the Travis Manion Foundation that was read at all the races happening across the globe in remembrance of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 said, his spirit lives on through the thousands of people who run each year to honor that call.

“Today you are not just an athlete. You are a patriot,” said Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola.

The local run was scheduled to begin at 8:46 a.m., the same moment that the first plane hit the first tower at the World Trade Center. After a few remarks from special guests, a flag presentation, the ringing of the bell, the rendering of military honors and taps, the run kicked off with a blast from an authentic cannon.

Rolling Thunder helped lead the race, and the Last Salute Military Funeral Honor Guard, the VFW 9462 Honor Guard and Galloway and Egg Harbor Township police departments participated in the ceremony.

“Today 38 races are going off. It’s pretty amazing to think that there are guys in Iraq running in the same shirts doing the same thing we are doing. It’s really being part of something larger than ourselves,” said race director Carrie Coppola.

As the runners and 1-mile fun run participants rounded the first bend in Smithville Village on the their way to Route 9, they ran under the American flag that was strung between two ladder trucks from Bayview and Pomona fire companies.

Three firefighters from the Pomona Volunteer Fire Company walked the 1-mile course dressed in full gear, adding at least 35 pounds of weight to their bodies and increasing the already hot temperatures.

They did it to honor the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11, said Nicole Lanzoni of Galloway as she tried to cool down from the walk.

Michael Barikian of Strafford attended basic training with Manion and spoke at the local race. “To see so many people showing up throughout the country and throughout the world for the 9/11 Heroes Run to honor the members of our community who are serving in law enforcement, the fire departments, EMTS, those who are getting ready to sign up to serve their country in the armed forces, is encouraging and it’s nice to be able to get out to these events,” he said.

LoBiondo, R-2nd District, reminded participants to continue to honor those who serve.

“Besides what you are doing today, which is fantastic, take a moment when you see a veteran and say thanks,” LoBiondo said. “If you see someone in uniform, take a moment and say thanks. When you see a police officer, take a moment and say thanks because what makes America great is the spirit of America and the spirit is no better exemplified than with our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our law enforcement,” he said.

Proceeds from the Smithville Heroes Run will benefit the Travis Manion Foundation and the community benefactor, Mainland PBA Local No. 77. Funds will be used by the Mainland PBA to provide scholarships.

For more information, visit travismanion.org

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