Special Olympics fundraiser turns into memorial walk for fallen Marine
BY AMANDA BLAND World Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
5/08/12 at 7:30 AM
When Tulsa Police Officer J.C. Comstock wanted to start a walk benefiting Special Olympics Oklahoma, he started small.
He approached Officers Gene Hogan and Adam Ashley with his idea and said "'I'm thinking about ... getting some people to sponsor me and walking for the three days to Stillwater for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics' Summer Games. You guys think you're in for that?'" Hogan recalled during an interview Sunday.
The three put their heads together with Officer Kevin Talley and decided that in addition to fundraising for the nonprofit, they wanted to honor fallen Tulsa Police Department Officer and Marine Cpl. Jared Shoemaker.
"Law enforcement across the nation has always supported and embraced Special Olympics" through the torch run leading up to the games and other events, Hogan said. "We wanted to take it a step further and partially honor (Shoemaker) as a fallen police officer and also the fact that he was a Marine, that was something he was really passionate about."
Shoemaker was killed in Iraq on Sept. 4, 2006, when the Humvee he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Two others died in the blast.
The first Cpl. Jared Shoemaker Memorial Walk was held 3 1/2 years later.
"It just kind of blossomed into this three-headed monster where everybody wanted to get involved," Hogan said.
As word of the event spread, people volunteered to drive support vehicles to travel with participants, and to provide bottled water, food and lodging. The organizers bulked up their roster of people committed to walking the 59 miles from their starting point near Chandler Park to Oklahoma State University's Gallagher-Iba Arena, as well.
That year, 2010, the walk raised more than $17,000. Donations last year totaled about $12,000, a drop Hogan attributes to the down economy.
"We're not looking for 20 people to give $1,000. We're looking for 1,000 people to give $20," he said, adding that organizers welcome donations in any amount.
In past years, an average of 30 people participate on any one of the three days it takes to reach their destination, Hogan said.
"It's a great thing to do. I would recommend it to anybody," he said. "Come out and walk a day, be part of it. It makes you feel good."
The patriotic response the group receives entering Mannford and Yale at the end of Days 1 and 2 makes the walk a memorable experience, Hogan said.
The event also forges bonds between the Marines and police, and between the Marines and Shoemaker's family.
"When we start out at Chandler Park, you walk up and you introduce each other. ... Then in the course of three days of walking 20-something miles a day, you really get to talk to them, especially at the end of the night. They kind of open up a little bit about the things that happened when they were overseas, and we listen to them," Hogan said.
"By the time we get there, you've made a friendship."
The troupe is a mix of Shoemaker's family, Marines who served with or knew him and Tulsa police officers and members of their families. Jared Shoemaker's parents, Ken and Linda Shoemaker, bring breakfast for the walkers each morning and join the walk on Day 3 from Yale to Stillwater.
"We're very, very honored that they would want to remember Jared in this way - (to) honor him for his sacrifice, and do something good for somebody else, which is what Jared would have wanted," said Linda Shoemaker.
"Most people, they remember for a short period of time. ... The police officers and Marines involved want to make sure that Jared, who represents all of the military who have given their lives, that he's not forgotten. It really means a lot to us."
The walk is also an opportunity for Oklahoma members of Jared Shoemaker's Massachusetts-based battalion to see their East Coast comrades, and for the Shoemakers to meet them.
Donations paid for four members of the battalion to fly in from across the country. They will join a handful of local Oklahoma Marines for the walk, said Devon Whaling of Tulsa, who served in Jared Shoemaker's unit.
"There's a lot of stories and stuff that people have that would never come to light unless they came down here and talked to the Shoemakers and vice versa," Whaling said.
For Linda Shoemaker, seeing the Marines, some who come from as far away as Massachusetts, is like having a piece of her son, she said.
"When I can hug them, it's like being able to hug my son again."
Donations to the Cpl. Jared Shoemaker Memorial Walk, which benefits Special Olympics Oklahoma, can be made online at tulsaworld.com/shoemakerwalk
How to donate:
Donate to the Cpl. Jared Shoemaker Memorial Walk online at tulsaworld.com/shoemakerwalk.
Checks made payable to Special Olympics Oklahoma can also be mailed to:
Jared Shoemaker Memorial Walk
P.O. Box 606
Owasso, OK, 74055
Original Print Headline: Fundraiser turns into more
Amanda Bland 918-581-8413
Walkers go west on Avery Drive near South 74th West Avenue in honor of slain Tulsa Police Officer Jared Shoemaker, a Marine killed in Iraq. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
The walk forges bonds between Marines and police, and between the Marines and Shoemaker's family. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Cpl. Jared Shoemaker: The Marine was killed in Iraq on Sept. 4, 2006, when the Humvee he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device.
Walk organizers and Tulsa Police Officers Gene Hogan (right) and Adam Ashley walk Monday behind the pack west on Avery Drive near South 74th West Avenue in honor of slain Tulsa Police Officer Jared Shoemaker, a Marine killed in Iraq. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World