The inaugural year for GallantFew’s Patriot Challenge, an evolution of the Run Ranger Run fundraiser, is in full swing with teams participating across the country and taking advantage of more opportunities to gain miles toward their objective. Whether it’s running, walking your dogs or crushing a CrossFit workout, teams are getting after their goal of 565 combined miles. The Patriot Challenge has already raised over $250,000 so far.
A relaunch of the 8-year-old Run Ranger Run event, the Patriot Challenge fundraiser happens every February. Teams work toward a combined goal of 565 miles in 28 days, with a mission to bridge the civilian and military gap while assisting active-duty soldiers in their transition back to civilian life. With the new name also comes more ways to count your miles. Now, for every 15 minutes of activity, including but not limited to powerlifting, dancing, and even Pilates, you gain a mile toward your final goal. If you lift for one hour, that will be 4 miles, and if you run a marathon, that’s 26.2 miles.
The original Run Ranger Run fundraiser started when Cory Smith teamed up with GallantFew. Smith was ending his enlistment with the US Army after serving with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, for four years. He was separated from his wife, who moved home to Indianapolis with their 18-month-old daughter while he was deployed. Going from the completely structured day-in-and-day-out lifestyle that the military provides to the sometimes structureless period of time that follows separating from the military can leave a veteran feeling lost and even self-destructive.
Smith decided to run 565 miles from Fort Benning, Georgia, to his hometown in 28 days after his last day at a job he loved. While facing problems of his own, Smith and the GallantFew agreed on a mutual mission to raise funds for the GallantFew and raise awareness of the problems men and women face when transitioning back to civilian life after serving their country.
Smith’s run home gave birth to a movement that has grown every year since its inception. And now, the evolution into the Patriot Challenge fundraiser has expanded the ranks.
As the name suggested, Run Ranger Run had a Ranger-centric theme with large numbers of participants coming from the Ranger community. Teams formed all over the US, and even overseas, but GallantFew felt there was a way to make things more inclusive and so set a goal to rebrand without changing the mission.
The Patriot Challenge swapped out the original Ranger colors of black and gold for red, white, and blue to pay homage to the American flag. Also, once a team raises $1,000, 50% of anything exceeding $1,000 can be dedicated to an approved military nonprofit of the team’s choosing, while the remaining 50% goes to GallantFew.
Michael Schlitz, a 14-year US Army Ranger veteran who has served on the board of directors and in various leadership positions with the Gary Sinise Foundation and GallantFew, is the Patriot Challenge’s inaugural chairman. Schlitz has dedicated his life to veterans advocacy following an IED explosion that left him without both hands, loss of vision, and his body 85% burned.
“With this new evolving way to include everybody, from civilian to veterans, the different branches [of the military], I thought it was a big deal to come in and help lend some support,” Schlitz said. “If I can be a small voice, if I can spread the message that we can reach a broader group of veterans, then I’m all for it.”
Schlitz explained how the new Patriot Challenge is more inclusive than the old Run Ranger Run model.
“I think moving forward under the Patriot Challenge, the biggest change is going to be the involvement of more people. There’s only a certain number of people that can actually serve our nation, and for those that choose to go a different path, there’s nothing against that,” Schlitz said. “We can’t all be in the military, we all can’t be lawyers, we all can’t be doctors, we all need different professions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t support those people who chose to do those things. I think this is going to allow everyone to become more involved, to reach out to their communities.”
The first year of the Patriot Challenge has seen challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus, but despite the pandemic, teams are finding ways to maintain a feeling of belonging and purpose. For instance, members of an RBC Wealth Management team based in Minnesota are walking through parks, cross-country skiing, and even logging miles by lifting weights, while also keeping up their daily routines and adhering to local pandemic restrictions. Seven teams representing RBC nationwide have already raised more than $15,000 for the GallantFew.