Race in Gonzales honors fallen 9/11 heroes
GONZALES - Monday marks 22 years since the 9/11 attacks. In Ascension Parish, one teen organized an event to honor those fallen heroes. The race drew in 155 participants
Ella Willoughby, 15, organized the race with her dad. It was held Sunday morning at River Parishes Community College. She says this year's race is the first of many.
"I wanted to get into volunteering and helping my community, and I really like this cause," Willoughby said with a smile as she watched friends cross the the finish line. "It was something I was passionate about."
Ella is a sophomore at Early College Option in Ascension Parish and is the daughter of military members. After moving to Ascension Parish, Ella knew she wanted to give back.
"It's started by the Travis Manion Foundation. They do a 9/11 Heroes Run all across the U.S., and they didn't actually have a location here," she said. "I ran their race back in Virginia, and when we moved here I was super excited to start a new chapter here."
The Travis Manion Foundation gives back to veterans and their families through mental health support.
With help from her school and Principal Nicole Joseph, the race was on. Joseph says this year she worked with Ella to build the event and grow it across the community. When Ella found out she had 99 runners, Joseph says she jumped on the opportunity to be number 100.
"I'm so proud of [Ella]. She is such a hard worker and is so into her community and making sure everybody understands military families and the scarifies that they make," Joseph said.
On race day, the air was cool. Runners dressed head to toe in red, white and blue. As each crossed the finish line, cheers erupted from the growing crowd.
Ella's classmates and fellow volunteers reflected on what the day means to them.
"I love running," first-place runner Caleb Williams said. "It's a huge hobby of mine. I enjoy it, but also I wanted to support the foundation and all the 9/11 heroes."
For those who ran and walked, Ella says Sunday was all about honoring fallen veterans.
"It really means so much," Willoughby said. "Me and my dad worked really, really hard to get here, try to get everything right."
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