AVON — A local veteran is helping other veterans one race at a time.
The fourth annual Vet Day 5K Run and 1K Mutt Strut on Saturday will benefit veteran organizations. Erik Luca, the organizer of the event, is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves.
“I’ve been deployed three times,” Luca said. “Running has always been a stress relief.”
He became involved in running when he took part in a “shadow run” while overseas. A shadow run, or satellite marathon, is held concurrently with a race in another location. Luca ran in Afghanistan while the Turkey Trot was being held in the United States. Running in these marathons was the inspiration to start a race in his hometown of Avon.
“I am trying to reach out to younger people to bring awareness to the veterans,” Luca said, “and to the work that the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) does serving the community through Americanism.”
Luca is a member of VFW Post 7035 in Avon, which helps find resources and gives support to veterans. For the past three years, the VFW has benefited from the race. The proceeds were used to build a memorial.
“The community as a whole respects and has great support (for veterans),” Luca said. “I hope (the race) grows.”
The race is gaining interest. It started with 75 participants in the first year and now has 125. There also is a new component this year — the 1K Mutt Strut for those who prefer to walk in the race with their dog. In line with the dog theme is the recipient of this year’s race, Wags for Warriors (W4W).
W4W is a veteran-founded and -run charity that helps service members who have been affected by combat experience. It works with local animal shelters to find a service dog for veterans and provides training and other support free of cost.
“Erik (Luca) contacted us and said he wants to raise enough money to pay for a service dog for at least one vet,” said Jen DeLorenzo, executive director of W4W. “We are so grateful for his generosity.”
DeLorenzo said more veterans, including some in Lorain County, are applying to get a service dog through W4W.
“We understand the importance of taking care of our vets and so does Erik (Lucas). We can’t express enough how excited we are to be a part of this event.”
Contact Cindy Breda at 329-7126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.