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UF student Michael Larratt (center), an 18-year-old UF information systems sophomore, is flanked by Joe Freda (left), a 21-year-old UF political science junior, and Beau Butler (right), a 20-year-old UF nuclear engineering sophomore, as they zoom past the finish line. Larratt said he wanted to help out the cause.

 

Will Clewis / Alligator Staff

Conner Dowd’s grandfather served as a Navy pilot for 26 years and retired at the rank of captain, inspiring his grandson to do the same.

On Sunday, Dowd, a 21-year-old UF applied physiology and kinesiology junior and ROTC student, ran in and helped coordinate the 11th annual Fallen Heroes 5K to honor his grandfather and other veterans.

The charity race raises money to support veterans and their families who need financial help. All proceeds go to the Gainesville Fisher House and the UDT-Seal Association, a nonprofit veteran service organization.

He said the race is about giving back to veterans because “they made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The race raised a little more than $3,000, which came from donations, shirt sales and registration fees, said head organizer Hayden Pfefferkorn.

The event was held at Depot Park for the first time this year to attract UF students and Gainesville residents, as opposed to where it was previously held at the Commuter Lot on campus.

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From left: Breann Garbas, a 37-year-old UF physician assistant studies professor, and Gainesville residents Robin Freeman, 39, and Christy Waits, 37, rest after running in the Fallen Heroes 5K at Depot Park on Sunday morning.

 

“(Military members) give their all so that we can have the freedom to pursue our dreams,” Pfefferkorn said. “Events like this are the least we can do to say thank you.”

The race began at 8:30 a.m. and about 215 people raced around the Depot Park loop.

The event honored UF alumni Navy Seal James Suh and Naval Special Warfare Officer Thomas Fouke, Pfefferkorn said. Suh and Fouke passed away while serving in 2005 and 2012, respectively.

Dowd said he has volunteered for the past two years but couldn’t run last year due to a foot injury. He almost wasn’t able to run this year after being rear-ended in a minor car accident and suffering some injuries.

He placed third with a time of 16:29. Isaac Gordon, 19, placed first with a time of 16:04, and Nick Rudnik, 25, placed second at 16:28.

“It’s giving back to the community I’m about to go into and that’s always been something I’ve tried to do,” Dowd said.