By Cameron Dunbar keepmecurrent.com
Like everyone who lost someone on September 11, 2001, the family of Gorham native Stephen Ward was thrown into a tailspin when he died in the World Trade Center 11 years ago.
Ward was a 33-year-old accountant who had only recently begun working at Cantor Fitzgerald, and he was on the 101st floor of the north tower on the day of the attacks.
But through their pain and grief, they also quickly decided that something positive had to come out of his death, so they created a memorial fund in his name to help support local students. The fund supports a scholarship awarded every year to a Gorham High School senior who demonstrates both athletic and academic leadership, and has been awarded to 15 students in its first 11 years of existence. But as the 10th anniversary of the attacks approached last year, the family decided it had run out of fresh ideas on how to raise funds, and wanted to come up with new ways to both increase the number of scholarships and the amount of money given in each.
That’s when Katie Hazel, Ward’s sister and a runner, came up with an idea.
“I had been thinking for a couple years how it would be really cool to maybe do a run because Steve was an athlete and he was big on exercise and being healthy,” she said.
“With the 10th anniversary last year we just decided we were going to do it, and it was such a great event. So we decided we wanted to do it every year as a way to initially raise funds for a scholarship.”
The second annual 9/11 Memorial 5-K Run/Walk will take place Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 9:00am at Robie Park in Gorham, with all proceeds going towards the Stephen Gordon Ward Memorial Scholarship fund.
The race will start and end at the Gorham Recreation Department next to the high school, making a loop through the town on a U.S. Track and Field-certified course. There will also be a silent auction on Saturday and during the race, as well as a kids’ fun run, food raffles and other events on race day.
“It’s a race for runners who are competitive, but a lot of people walk,” said Hazel, who will serve as race director. “There’s a lot of people with families and grandparents and kids and dogs, so any member of the community can really come and participate.”
In addition, this year the race is going international, with a sister race at the Finley-Shields Forward Operating Base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, for service members who want to support the cause but can’t be in Maine.
That race is being coordinated by Michael Davis, a Ward family friend and Army Ranger the 143d Infantry (Airborne), and will include participants from the 143rd, the 4th Infantry Division, the Airborne Civil Affairs, the 101st Airborne and the United States Air Force.
With the help of the funds raised from both races, will be able to greatly increase the aims and objectives of the fund, said Ward’s sister, Susan Moore, of Windham.
“It may take us 10 or 20 years to get there, but our goal is to honor him by sending a student all the way through school,” Moore said. “We would like every year to be able to say to a kid from small-town Maine, ‘Go to school, go get a degree and we’ll take care of it.’”
However, last year the race served as more than just a way to raise funds, Hazel said. Instead of having to hide away from the world on what had been for a decade a “pretty miserable day,” the race served as a way to forget about death and celebrate and remember Ward’s life and who he was.
“I have a hard time sort of expressing what it does personally for me and for my family have all these people who knew him to come together, and even people who didn’t know him to come together, and to feel his presence in our lives again and share stories about him,” Hazel said.
“It’s just a really cool way to keep his memory alive.”
And while the race last year proved to be fantastic coping mechanism for the Ward family and a great way to turn the 9/11 anniversary into somewhat positive, it wasn’t just Stephen Ward’s relatives who benefited from having something upbeat to do on what can be a dark day.
That become clear when the crowd spontaneously sang the National Anthem at last year’s race, starting what Moore says could become a tradition.
“My neice, Marin, is 7 years old. She can sing like an angel,” Moore said. “She wanted to sing the National Anthem to begin Uncle Steve’s race. … She memorized the lyrics and practiced all year. She was great. But on race day, with a crowd of 400-plus runners looking at her, she became paralyzed with stage fright. She clung to her mother’s leg and couldn’t sing the anthem.
“So we asked the crowd to sing. Everyone stood and sang the national anthem together.
“My family had always been aware that this event would be an emotional one for us,” Moore said. “The anniversary of the terrorist attacks, is, for us, the anniversary of Steve’s death. What we didn’t realize last year, what we weren’t prepared for, is that it was also an emotional day for the community at large. One after another people approached us after the race and, sometimes with tears in their eyes, thanked us for allowing them to participate. Thanked us. We were stopped short by that. We wanted to thank them for coming to our event, and instead they thanked us for giving them a place to go and a way to feel useful on that horrible day.
“We will therefore absolutely do the same thing this year and every year as long as the community will show up to sing with us.”