She ran anyway, and continues to run for veterans
It was a chilly, windy day in Roberts and Hammond on Veterans Day. But that didn’t stop Jean Bringgold from showing her appreciation for our country, flag and veterans in her own unique way: a patriot run.
She ran from her home in rural Roberts to the St. Croix Central Middle School Veterans Day program, proudly carrying the American flag on a light, aluminum pole the entire way.
Bringgold began doing her patriot runs three years ago, although she’s been a runner her entire adult life.
She said three years ago she was running near her home while training for a half-marathon, when she saw the flag at the old Nike missile base and had a revelation.
“I saw the flag and I just stopped,” Bringgold said. “It moved me. Our country was under the turmoil of new leadership and everywhere there were differences of opinion, worries, thoughts and concerns. I thought ‘What can I do to help bring people back together?’”
When she was younger, Bringgold had dreams of being an Olympic champion. Though she never made it to the Olympics, she has participated in many 5Ks, marathons and half-marathons.
“When are people the most united?” Bringgold asked. “While singing the national anthem, at sporting events, after 9-11.”
She decided to become the first woman to carry the American flag while running races. She said she didn’t say anything to anyone of her plans, but was worried she wasn’t strong enough to do it. She decided to try it at one of her favorite races, the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.
Coincidentally, that Christmas before the marathon, she received a letter from one of her high school teachers in northern Minnesota. His son’s friend carried an American flag while he ran in races in honor of a friend who was killed in Afghanistan. She looked him up on Facebook and the two ran together with their flags at the Grandma’s Marathon that next year.
Since then, she has run 23 patriot runs, ranging from 5Ks, marathons and half-marathons.
She ran with Mike Ehredt when he came through Baldwin in 2012 during his Project America Run. Ehredt ran from Astoria, Ore., to Portland, Maine, in 2010, placing one flag every mile to honor veterans who died in Iraq, 4,424 flags in all. He also ran from International Falls, Minn., passed through Baldwin, and ended in Galveston, Texas, in 2012, placing 2,140 flags (one every mile) for veterans who died in Afghanistan.
Bringgold ran through Roberts with the flag after the Boston bombings.
“People pass and see the flag and wave, give me a thumbs up or a fist pump,” Bringgold said. “I love being within my community. They’re not cheering for me, but for the flag. It’s not about me. The flag represents everything good in America.”
Bringgold said she’s always touched when older men stand up and remove their hats, even if it’s a struggle for them, when she runs by during races. She said once an elderly lady even got out of her car and clung to the car for support as she saluted the flag.
“The respect they have for the flag means so much,” Bringgold said. “So I bring out the flag and help unite people.”
A deep love for America and respect for freedom is something Bringgold and her husband Dan want to instill in their five children.
“We tell them not to take their freedoms for granted,” Bringgold said. “Hopefully being free is never taken away. It made me want to jump out of my skin when I heard of a middle school teacher who compared saying ‘The Pledge of Allegiance’ to something Hitler would have made his people do.”
Bringgold had planned to run in the New York City Marathon last November, but when the marathon was cancelled due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, she was only three hours away from New York travelling by car and there was no turning back.
“I thought for sure I was meant to do this,” Bringgold said. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Bringgold made up her mind she was going to run the six-mile loop around Central Park anyway. Her husband and sons said they would take turns running laps with her.
She said when they stepped off the subway, there were at least 10,000 people at Central Park, who decided to run anyway.
Running the New York City Marathon was on Bringgold’s bucket list, and she accomplished it in a unique way, even though it wasn’t the way she had planned.
She ran and raised money as part of the team “Hope for Warriors,” which helps veterans in a post 9-11 world get back on their feet.
“It was so touching because you knew New York needed this,” Bringgold said. “They barricaded the finish line, but we ran anyway.”
Bringgold said she hopes to run two races next summer, one in North Dakota, one in South Dakota. Her goal is to eventually run a patriot run in every state.
“I am given a strength (to carry the flag) that doesn’t come from me,” Bringgold said. “I don’t think vets get thanked enough. Our area is pretty good, but some aren’t.”
Bringgold’s five children, Nathan, Jordan, Zac, Mikala and Ava all run too.
“It keeps us healthy, sane and happy,” Bringgold smiled.
To follow Bringgold and her patriot runs, read her blog at uspatriotrunner.blogspot.com or visit her Facebook page, Patriot Runner.
“My way to honor the heroes of this country,” Bringgold wrote on Facebook Nov. 11. “I ran almost nine miles in 18 degrees with 15 mph winds from our home to the middle school for their wonderful Veterans Day program. Thinking how thankful I am for having freedom kept me warm. All the people honking, waving, and giving a thumbs up, kept me going. Thank you to all who have served, who are serving, and who will serve. May God bless you!”