Greenwich pastor races to benefit families of fallen troops
May 26, 2016
GREENWICH — Lance Svendsen laced up for his first marathon in 2012. He has been running — and fundraising — ever since.
Svendsen, 31, the youth pastor at Stanwich Congregational Church, never got to run the New York City marathon that year because it was canceled after Superstorm Sandy struck.
But in less than 36 hours, he organized a “Run Anyway” marathon-length race in Central Park, which attracted some 3,000 runners and raised about $16,000 for Staten Island, N.Y., survivors of the disaster.
The success of that event led to Run Anyway, a nonprofit founded by Svendsen to raise money for several causes, including suicide prevention.
In 2014, he launched Run Anyway’s signature — and largest — event, 500 for the Fallen, a 500-mile relay race between Concord, Mass., and Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
On Thursday, Svendsen will lead the five-day journey from the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord. The race will raise money for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which helps to fund college educations for children of troops who died in the line of duty. He plans to run some 50 miles of the race, including a three-mile leg through Greenwich on Saturday, along with at least six town residents.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the military,” Svendsen said. “When I lost my uncle to brain cancer, I saw first-hand what it was like to lose somebody and for someone to lose a parent. He left behind three boys. Hearing about the Children of Fallen Patriots, I saw how much they do to make kids’ lives better. And this is something we can do to help a great cause.”
The Greenwich contingent will depart 5:25 a.m. from the war memorial obelisk on Greenwich Avenue and follow a three-mile course to the movie theater in Port Chester, N.Y.
They will not receive a baton from the Stamford team preceding them, but rather two patriotic mementos: an American flag and dog tags belonging to the late Sgt. Garett Mongrella. He was killed with 10 fellow Marines in the first Gulf War in the Battle of Khafji, as they tried to reclaim the Saudi Arabian town from Iraqi troops.
Old Greenwich resident Ana Kostovic plans to run for the first time. Her husband, Marko Kostovic, is a West Point graduate who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2007.
While her husband returned safely, Kostovic said she is familiar with the tragedy of a service member leaving behind a young family. One of Marko Kostovic’s West Point friends, Maj. Thomas Kennedy, was killed in a 2012 suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan. He was 35 and left behind his wife, Kami, and infant twins, Brody and Maggie.
Kostovic said she identifies with Kami Kennedy as a military wife and mom of boy-girl twins, 31/2 year-olds Luka and Petra. She said Kennedy inspired her to run because she holds a golf tournament in honor of her late husband, an event that raises funds for Fallen Patriots.
“Being a part of this West Point family, there’s a connection and bond that we have,” Kostovic said. “It was hard to think about this young woman, Kami, and how she was going to raise her children without anyone by her side. But organizations like Children of Fallen Patriots help to ensure the best future possible for the kids.”
The Greenwich team will include Greenwich High School senior Claire Blinten, who is interning this month with Run Anyway. She will join Svendsen on the 500-mile journey and run several stages, including the Greenwich leg.
“For kids whose parents have died serving our country, they should totally have the ability to receive a college education so they can achieve their goals and hopefully make their fallen parents proud,” Blinten said.
In its first two years, 500 for the Fallen has raised about $50,000, and this year’s race will probably raise another $30,000, according to Svendsen.
“My favorite thing about this whole race is getting to meet all the people along the way,” Svendsen said. “When you put the dog tags of a fallen soldier around someone’s neck, that’s when it really hits people. You see the cars honking, and the American flag waving. Watching how proud people get has literally broughttears to my eyes.”