Escorted by a police car and a fire truck with lights flashing, a team of two marathon runners on their way to New York City jogged into White Salmon last Friday evening, and paused to honor local firefighters.
The event, called "The Promise Run," started in Astoria, Ore., at 9 a.m. on Oct. 11 -- one month after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Before it is finished, Nike runners will have covered 3,431 miles.
The run across America is being sponsored by Nike, Inc., as a way to raise money to benefit the Fallen Firefighters Foundation and its law enforcement counterpart, Concerns of Police. It is also designed to honor America's emergency response teams in the wake of Sept. 11's tragedies.
Another key aspect of the event is to raise money for the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, recently created by former President Bill Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole.
"The goal is to help educate the 15,000 kids who lost a parent on Sept. 11," said Beth Gorny, a Nike spokesperson. "They all need support and we want to make sure they get a post-secondary education, whether trade school or college."
To raise funds, Nike is putting out the word to business partners, athletes, and colleges and universities, asking them to contribute what they can to the campaign.
Gorny pointed out that all the runners volunteered their time and energy as a way to help.
"These are all Nike employees who said they wanted to do this," Gorny explained. "Everyone is having a fabulous time, and we're pleasantly surprised by how the towns are receiving us."
When the group got to White Salmon, a welcoming committee comprising members of the White Salmon Volunteer Fire Department and the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, as well as emergency personnel from Skyline Hospital, were there to greet the Nike team, members of which filled several vans.
Nike donated a couple bags filled with Nike sporting goods earmarked to be raffled off to help purchase needed equipment for the fire department.
In turn, the Nike representatives received a shoulder patch from the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department as well as from the White Salmon Fire Department. The patches will be added to a collage that will display all the patches from stations along the Nike runners' route.
The route will proceed east via towns such as Bliss, Idaho; Logan, Utah; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Fairmont, Neb.; Bloomfield, Iowa; Lafayette, Ind.; Somerset, Penn.; Forest Hill, Md.; and Long Branch, N.J.; before arriving in New York City.
Tom Smith of the White Salmon Fire Department said the entire department was gratified to be on the Nike tour schedule.
"The team was very honored," Smith said. "We all thought that was a real neat thing. It was a great event."
Smith said the bagful of Nike items will be raffled off during pancake breakfasts in the community. He added that the tentative plan was to raffle half of the items during Spring Festival in May, and the other half during the Huckleberry Festival in September.
"That's what we're thinking now," Smith said.
Nike donated the goods as a way to help the department invest further in equipment to help protect public safety.
"We're real honored and appreciative," Smith said.
The Nike route is expected to include visits to 45 fire stations across the land. White Salmon represented the third stop on the cross-country tour. The first two fire halls visited were in Astoria and Scappoose, Ore.
Mayor Roger Holen, who came to the fire hall to show support to the fundraising campaign, joked to the gathered runners that the remaining fire hall visits along the route would be anti-climactic for them.
"You've seen the best, now enjoy the rest," Holen said.
Gorny said the Nike team plans to cover approximately 90 miles each day.
"There are always two runners on the road at a time, and they each run nine-mile legs," she explained.
Although only two runners are active in the run at a time, before the caravan reaches NYC, more than 200 runners will have taken part.
"We expect to have 210 to 220 runners by the end," said Paul Zadoff, project manager for the run by Nike.
The Promise Run caravan plans to arrive in New York on Nov. 22.
After spending Friday night in Hood River, the group was headed off at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, with a stop at the fire station in Condon, Ore., its next objective.