Create Your Own Finish Line

Author: Carol Bazemore

Local Race Events Commemorate the Fallen 

Team TAPS has been leading runners along race courses from Washington, D.C., to Anchorage, Alaska, for 15 years, building charity partner relationships with established races to create awareness of the TAPS mission and honor our fallen heroes. In addition, Team TAPS is focused on helping survivors create their own endurance activities that honor their loved ones in their hometowns.

Laps for TAPS

Rocky's Run for Freedom 5K

TAPS families use endurance challenge events to highlight the physical activities that once inspired their fallen heroes. One of these highly successful events is the Rocky's Run for Freedom 5K. This Memorial Day race in Miamisburg, Ohio, honors Cpl. Paul "Rocky" Zanowick II and others who sacrificed their lives for our country. With the help of family, friends and the community, the Rocky's Run for Freedom 5K, created in 2013 by Rocky's sister, Nicole, raised $12,000 in 2015 for charities, including TAPS. 

Nicole's organizational footprint evolved from relying on the help of a few volunteers to leveraging the efforts of her brother's childhood friends and his parents in a committee-style framework. Her drive to be a living legacy for Rocky opened the door to working with a variety of supporters. Volunteers, friends and co-workers have brought different ideas and perspectives that have helped distribute the workload of planning and have benefitted the event.  

"A race has many moving parts or pieces of a puzzle," said Rocky's dad, Paul, who finds that he must take off from work the final two weeks before the race to handle all the last-minute details and setup for the event. Paul shared some tips for other surviving families wanting to create a TAPS endurance event to honor a loved one:

  • Define the event's purpose.
  • Create goals.
  • Get plenty of help from trusted folks who share your goals.
  • Beware of people or groups who may try to use your event for their own agenda. 
  • Have fun! If it is not fun and exciting, it will be a difficult road.
  • Remember why you are putting on this event - to honor and remember your hero.

Paul said organizing an event is healing for survivors on many different levels. The family stays busy and identifies a goal on their grief journey. 

“It honors Rocky to do an event like this, and yet, there is an emotional impact to doing it that is unavoidable,” Paul said. “It’s like being on a long, high roller coaster with lots of progressively larger rises and falls on the way to the top. I have even asked myself why we do it. But, then I really know the answer. It is to honor and remember our son.”

Nicole agrees that it is an emotional experience. "When the run is over and the weekend comes to an end, everyone heads back to their homes, and the reality is that it is just my parents and me again," Nicole said. "You go from this high of being around the Marines, hearing the stories and being around our great community that watched my brother grow up. It takes a toll on you."

But ultimately, Nicole says the run is healing. The investment pays off for Nicole when her brother's Marine friends come to town to spend the weekend with them. Since the race's inception, different Marines from Rocky's battalion have participated. "We enjoy being able to hear stories about my brother and the guys," Nicole said. "Some of them are hilarious stories showcasing Rocky's lively personality and spirit. From spending time with them and getting to know them, I have been able to see a little bit of my brother in each of them.

"I get to be closer to my brother again and bring others closer to him as well, which helps make sure he is never forgotten."

Andrew Sipple Memorial Day Swim Event

In Cary, N.C., family members and the community gather at the local pool for the Andrew Sipple Memorial Day Swim Event: Laps for TAPS. The event continues the legacy of Spc. Andrew Sipple while raising money to care for the families of fallen heroes. Andrew and his three siblings were active members of the neighborhood swim team. Now, the swim team and community join together to honor Andrew through a lap swim fundraiser and community breakfast for donations.  

The community welcomes the event as part of their Memorial Day commemoration. For many in Cary, the inaugural event was the first time they did something meaningful for Memorial Day. Laps for TAPS touches many hearts as families swim together and remember loved ones they have lost.

The lion's share of the event organization is done by a network of friends and supporters. The organizers advise to start small and keep it simple. Consult with surviving family members and make sure to always gain their approval when planning, especially for communications, fliers and photographs used to promote the event. For this event, two people oversee all aspects of the event and rely on others for specific tasking. As the event evolves, the generosity of local businesses is overwhelmingly supportive.

"We are so grateful for the many kindnesses and generous donations given freely by our friends and neighbors," Andrew's parents said, while reflecting on the event. "It is heartwarming to know that Andrew is not forgotten and that he has inspired our community to come together to support TAPS."

The local pool is a special place, full of memories, for the Sipple family. "The neighborhood pool was a source of so much fun for our family," the Sipples said. "Our earlier summers at the pool were filled with lots of swim practices and meets, picnic dinners, parties, pizza and swim games, accompanied with much love and laughter. It is hard to balance these wonderful memories with the reality of a world without Andrew and the realization of the many, many families that are also on unimaginably difficult journeys."

Team TAPS welcomes the growth of hometown endurance events that honor our fallen heroes from coast to coast. We appreciate the dedication and kindness of the hundreds who race with us while raising community awareness for TAPS. The spirit of camaraderie and the passionate legacy of an endurance event honoring your loved one in your local community enhances the healing journey for all.  

Are you inspired to create your own event? If so, we stand by to coach you along the way as you run, walk, swim, bike or hike your community's tribute for fallen heroes. For specific guidelines and general recommendations to get started, contact Team TAPS at To learn more about the two events mentioned visit their websites.

Rocky's Run for Freedom 5K

Laps for TAPS 

By Carol Bazemore, Team TAPS Coordinator