MESA, Ariz. - One would think, after seven months and nearly 3,000 miles of walking across America, that Rory Fanning could get a small break. Not yet.
Fanning is a former Army Ranger and friend of Pat Tillman, the Arizona State and Arizona Cardinals star who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. In his memory, and to raise funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation, Fanning has spent every day since Sept. 17 walking westward from Virginia Beach, Va., averaging 20 miles per day in a trek that will end in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Fanning is in Tempe for the fifth annual Pat's Run on Saturday, a 4.2-mile race that begins outside Sun Devil Stadium and ends on the 42-yard line (Tillman wore No. 42 at Arizona State). Fanning will be the race starter.
And while his walk is on hold for a few days, Fanning's work is not.
He will speak to high schoolers and prisoners this week. On Thursday, he was at the race's registration tents near the stadium, handing out T-shirts to those who signed up. He was wearing a gold 'Pat's Run' T-shirt, green cargo pants and his third pair of running shoes since the journey started.
Fanning graduated from Notre Dame, served a pair of stints in the Army and works as a banker in Chicago, but doesn't hesitate when qualifying this trek for Tillman.
"It's really been the best thing I've ever done," he said.
Fanning and Tillman met in Fort Lewis, Wash., while training for the Army, and from the beginning, Fanning noticed something different about the former NFL star.
"You can tell if someone's special after just one or two conversations because of their ability to listen," Fanning said. "He wasn't trying to interrupt you for his own point, and that's a rare quality."
Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire on April 23, 2004.
After becoming a banker in Chicago, Fanning became disenchanted with the way greed and selfishness had overtaken the country, and he decided to do something about it.
Although his job is based nearly entirely on commissions, his boss didn't want him to leave. Fanning said no paycheck in the world could equal the amount of satisfaction he's gotten during the walk.
His hope is to raise $3.6 million, the contract amount Tillman turned down from the Cardinals to join the Army Rangers.
"My hope is 1.8 million people donate $2," Fanning said. "Then it kills two birds with one stone. It raises awareness of Pat's sacrifice, and I think it would be an amazing national statement to give the $3.6 million he gave up (back) to the Tillman Foundation."
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He's encountered bears on the Appalachian Trail and slept behind commercial buildings, doing much of the walk in the dead of winter.
Nary a complaint spouts from Fanning's mouth, though, as he focuses on the man who sparked this journey.
"All the crises and all the problems that we have right now, they would not be an issue if we made more decisions like Pat," Fanning said. "It was just so obvious how much potential he had. Maybe the millions of us, collectively, can live up to that potential."
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A fallen hero remembered
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the death of former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.
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