By Amy Poulter, The Virginia-Pilot

Air National Guard Sgt. Gregory Skurupey was on a plane in 2001, hours from ringing in his 35th birthday.

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He was heading back to his home base of Camp Pendleton, soon to see his wife, Kathryn Tidwell, and their two children, Sheridan and Logan. A party was set and some guests had already arrived.

All for a celebration that would never happen. 

The plane carrying Skurupey and 17 other national guardsmen crashed in a Georgia field.

A little over a week ago, Sheridan Skurupey counted 17 years since the last time she saw her father. She was five years old.

"It's hard at times. It's not so much because of the memories I have but what I've had to miss since then," she said.

"You just kind of wonder what life would have been like."

This Sunday, Sheridan will lace up her sneakers and run 26.2 miles in the Shamrock Marathon in honor of her fallen father. By running, she'll also raise funds for other Gold Star children.

With just days left, she's surpassed her goal of $3,500. Her mother, Kathryn, said it's just an example of how driven Sheridan has always been.

Both Sheridan Skurupey and her brother have been able to pay for their college educations through the through the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which provides financial assistance and scholarships to children who have lost a parent or guardian in the line of duty. 

The money she raises for running the Irish-themed marathon will go toward another Gold Star child's education.

"Being a college student, she doesn't really have the funds to give back to another student," Tidwell said. "But she found a way."

Now a senior at Randolph Macon College, Sheridan said before the foundation began helping her, she was always one of the last students to pay her tuition. With their help, she was able to purchase a car and work fewer hours so that she could focus on her coursework in business management. 

Because of the foundation, she'll soon graduate debt-free.

And she was able to study abroad for a few weeks in January. "She was able to travel to Martinique for school, and the foundation made that possible," Tidwell said.

The marathon trail will lead Sheridan right in front of Camp Pendleton, she said, where a memorial was erected in honor of her father's Air National Guard 203rd Red Horse Squadron. It includes a large red horse kneeling before a black stone boulder – the names of the victims etched on it. 

She last visited the memorial two years ago during the 15th anniversary ceremony and remembers exactly where his memorial flag and the brick that bears his name are placed. 

"You can see the memorial from the front gates," Sheridan said. "It will be bittersweet."

Nearly two decades after his death, Sheridan said she is always learning new tidbits of information about who her father was and what he was like. There's still "so much to be told," she said.

What would dad think of her running a marathon? He would probably think she was mad, Sheridan Skurupey said. But she also thinks he would be on the sidelines yelling, "That's my daughter!"

He'd be proud, Sheridan said.

"I have to do this for my dad," she said, "and for all the kids out there who have lost someone."

Amy Poulter, 757-446-2705,