The run/walk in memory of fallen Illinois military service members began at 7 a.m. and more than 200 participants, many wearing ponchos or carrying umbrellas, took laps around the Charleston High School track during the next two and a half hours.
Then, lightning flashed in the darkened sky and high winds threatened to blow away the event's registration booth. The stormy weather prompted organizers to halt the run/walk due to safety concerns, which co-sponsor Bill Lair said was a first for this annual event.
While sheltering under the eaves of an equipment storage building, Sean Uhles of Aurora said he was still glad to have the opportunity to participate in the run/walk once again. Uhles and his family took part in memory of his brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Drew Uhles of Du Quoin, who was killed in action at age 20 in 2004 while serving in Iraq.
"It's nice to be able to honor the fallen, so this event is definitely appreciated," Uhles said. He ran Saturday morning alongside his children, 11-year-old Ethan and 3-year-old Julia. "They never knew my brother, so it is nice to share this with them."
Under the cover of a restroom building roof, Charleston High School Maximum Forte members Patience Beever and Soren Stowell said their group was able to sing the national anthem at the event before the storm hit. Their director, Julianne Sharp, said they usually perform on the football field, but wet ground conditions led them sing on the track without a microphone.
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Maximum Forte members, many with umbrellas, joined the run/walk's other participants in circling the track, placing small American flags on the field, and ringing the bell there in memory of the fallen service members. Participants lined the end of the field with a total of 401 flags.
Beever and Stowell, who are both juniors, said they enjoy taking part in this event every year and receiving information cards about the fallen.
"Last year, I kept my card and I put it up in my locker so I would see why we always do this," Beever said.
The run/walk is held in memory of the more than 250 military men and women from Illinois who have died during the ongoing fight against terrorism. Almost 20 service members from Coles County and the surrounding area have given their lives in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year's event brought back Mattoon native Cameron Schilling's "Portrait of a Soldier" drawings of all Illinois service members who have fallen in this fight.
Run/walk participant Rikki Robertson of Charleston was among those who stopped to view the portraits while they were displayed on Saturday in the Charleston Middle School cafeteria. Robertson said she turns out every year to run in this event.
"I still run for those guys because they put their lives on the line for me," Robertson said.