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Relay race honoring 9/11 victims passes through Baltimore

Justin Acerboni of San Diego, one of 70 runners participating in the 240-mile 911 Promise Run, jogs along the shoulder of Pulaski Highway in White Marsh. The runners, each running six-mile relays, started at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in D.C. on Monday morning, and plan to arrive at Ground Zero in New York City on Wednesday. The journey of remembrance raises money for scholarships for children of first responders and the military who sacrificed their lives or are disabled.
Justin Acerboni of San Diego, one of 70 runners participating in the 240-mile 911 Promise Run, jogs along the shoulder of Pulaski Highway in White Marsh. The runners, each running six-mile relays, started at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in D.C. on Monday morning, and plan to arrive at Ground Zero in New York City on Wednesday. The journey of remembrance raises money for scholarships for children of first responders and the military who sacrificed their lives or are disabled. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The American flag clenched in the hand of the runners passing through Baltimore offered the usual stars, but unusual stripes.

Printed within the 13 stripes were the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 18 years ago this week.

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Seven teams carried a version of this flag through Baltimore’s streets Monday, passing by the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor, as part of a 240-mile relay to remember the lives lost during those attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The 9/11 Promise Run, started in 2016 by Jennifer DePoto, commemorates the fallen, particularly first responders. The relay lasts three days, beginning at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and ending at Ground Zero in New York. Each day covers at least 80 miles with runners from each team swapping in and out for one another as their teammates follow along in support vehicles. When the runners reach New York, all 77 participants will join together and run to the finish.

A separate 9/11 Promise Bike departs from the Pentagon and goes 198 miles over two days to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a hijacked flight crashed after passengers fought with the terrorists.

“It’s not a celebration at the end,” said William Ewald, a Promise Run board member. "We realize what happened there and it becomes a deeply personal thing.”

Each person who participates in the run must raise at least $1,000. That money is then placed into a scholarship fund for children of 9/11 first responders and military who have died or become ill or injured and can’t return to work.

Ewald estimates $100,000 was donated by participants this year alone.

The other requirement is that whenever someone is running, they have to be holding the American flag that has the names of the fallen on it.

“At the end of this they’re not going to want to give up that flag,” Ewald said. “It’ll become part of them.”

Throughout the three-day journey, teams can take water and food breaks at several rest stops, typically at fire stations along the route. After running nearly 50 miles from the start at 5 a.m. Monday, runners stopped at Baltimore County Fire Department Station 5 at 4501 Washington Blvd. in Halethorpe.

Fire Capt. Erik Reinhardt said this is the second year the station has hosted Promise Run participants because they believe in what the run represents.

“The cause itself is great,” Reinhardt said. “They’re continuing to bring overall awareness to the lives lost.”

Reinhardt said some of the firefighters are even talking about starting their own team next year after talking with runners.

David D. Preston, 38, of Dulles, Virginia, entered a team of workers from UPS for the second time. He said he was working for the Department of Defense in Europe during the attacks. He said he felt like he couldn’t help as much as he wanted at the time. But by running, he feels like he gets to give back — and with 10 fellow employees.

“Something like this you can’t do on your own,” Preston said. “The conditions are extreme and no one is there cheering you on. There’s no glory at the finish line.”

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