As America prepared to pay tribute to its fallen heroes, hundreds gathered in Plainfield’s in honor of servicemen and women injured in the line of duty.
The first-ever had an impressive turnout, according to Jeff Maliska, a volunteer with Operation Welcome You Home, the organization that coordinated the event.
Maliska said organizers expected somewhere around 150 participants for the event, since it’s a brand-new outing.
“We had 400 at the start of the day,” he said Saturday. By the time the race began at 8 a.m., there were 477.
The $25 race fee plus donations from sponsors meant the event raised more than $5,000, Maliska said, adding it could grow to as much as $8,000 when all is said and done.
“We’re obviously pleasantly surprised by the turnout,” he said.
The proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit that offers physical therapy, combat stress recovery programs, adaptive sports and career counseling to injured veterans.
Wearing camouflage shirts emblazed with their team name, “Team Bobby,” family members turned out in support of one of Plainfield’s own heroes.
Team members ran the 5K in honor of Plainfield Marine Bobby Spodarek, a captain currently stationed in Afghanistan.
Rick Michalec, Spodarek’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, said the family let the Marine know they planned to participate in the race.
“He’s keeping track [of our times],” Michalec said, adding the family keeps in touch with Spodarek via email.
Amber Caulk, whose husband is Spodarek’s cousin, said family members from high school students to grandmothers turned out for the race.
Even Spodarek’s sister, Lauren, mom to an eight-week-old baby boy, took part in the event to honor her brother. His nephew and godson, who napped through much of the festivities, was also decked out in camouflage to mark the occasion.
Robert Spodarek, Bobby’s dad, didn’t run the race, but turned out to support the team.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said of seeing the large turnout for the event. “Every time I hear the national anthem, it means something to me. I think of my son and the other men who are serving.”
Girlfriend Toni Thanas said Bobby is currently serving his second tour in Afghanistan. The graduate is due home in September, she said.
A soldier’s sendoff
Though it’s normally their job to welcome veterans home, on Saturday, Donna and Jim Morsovillo of Operation Welcome You Home took time out during the event to recognize a solder heading off to Afghanistan.
Pvt. Ryan Pertile, who took part in the race with his dad, was given a sendoff by the crowd of hundreds. He’s due to deploy to Afghanistan in July.
Peritle, a 2011 graduate of , is the son of Scott and Colleen and brother to Erin.
An annual event?
Operation Welcome You Home, which organized the 5K with the help of Visiting Angels, concluded the first-ever event with an awards ceremony.
With the first successful Wounded Warriors 5K under their belts, runner Jean Perle said she hopes the organizers continue to host the event each May.
“Hopefully this becomes a tradition,” said Perle, a Plainfield resident and business owner whose son is an active-duty serviceman. “This kicks off Memorial Day weekend.”
For complete race results, click here.