Matthew Freeman would be nearing his 34th birthday if he were here to see the hundreds of Richmond Hill friends and community members race in his memory on Saturday in the annual Capt. Matthew Freeman Memorial Run in WaterWays Township.
Having grown up in Richmond Hill, the former Boy Scout, two-time high school tennis champion and marching band saxophonist had made an indelible mark on all who knew him. But four years ago, Freeman, a captain in the U.S. Marines serving in Afghanistan, was killed in action leaving behind his new wife, his parents and two sisters and a brother.
In the aftermath of his death, Freeman’s mother, Lisa Freeman, took action. Based on his last letter home asking for pens and paper, she organized a 5K fundraiser for education, as well as the Matthew Freeman Project: Pens and Paper for Peace that collects school supplies to be distributed to children in war-torn countries.
On Saturday that race will take place for the fourth time, but this go-around Freeman will use a portion of the funds raised to support a second cause — the Capt. Matthew Freeman USMC Sibling Scholarship.
“The race and the scholarship are two separate things, but some of the money that is raised from the race will go toward our scholarship, and how many scholarships we give out each year will be determined by how much money we raise during the race,” Lisa Freeman said.
Freeman said she remembers watching her surviving children struggle to lead normal lives in the wake of their brother’s death. Her youngest daughter, Virginia Wiedower, left school to support her family in Richmond Hill, and her oldest daughter, Mary Beth Macias, also returned home to cope with the loss.
Freeman said she wanted to keep her son’s memory alive, but she also realized that there wasn’t enough support available for siblings of fallen soldiers. So in 2012, she founded the Sibling Scholarship, a program that supports healing as well as education, with recipients of the fund being chosen by Wiedower and Macias.
“There are lots of different family types and situations,” Freeman said. “But the Sibling Scholarship is specifically for the siblings of the fallen-in-combat. There are many different ways we move our soldiers and there are lot of ways to support that group, but this is specifically for people dealing with the loss of a brother or sister. And it’s from that frame of reference my daughters will be reading the applications.”
This year, Freeman has been given a helping hand from a few big names in Richmond Hill. Sandra Elliot, owner of Georgia Game Changers, organized this year’s race, and in a change from previous years, WaterWays Township will serve as host.
But the real help has come from the Richmond Hill High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp, now headed by Elliot’s daughter, Amanda Elliot. The cadets not only compete in the race, they will also assist other runners along the way.
“The ROTC uses this as their service project,” said Sandra Elliot. “But it just so happens that we were sponsors last year, and my daughter ran the race with high school cross country team, so that’s how I was introduced to the project.”
Still Freeman said she owes all the credit to the people who turn out each year in support of her son and her family.
“I don’t think I could ask for a better community than what I have. At every opportunity they’ve shown their appreciation for what Matthew did for our country and for Richmond Hill,” she said.
Registration for the race is still under way. Race-day registration is from 7 to 8 a.m. Saturday at WaterWays Township. The 5K and 10K will start at 8:30 a.m. and the fun run will be at 10 a.m.
Both runners and walkers are free to hit the 5K paved trail, which is safe for strollers and leashed dogs, but the 10K all-terrain trail is reserved for runners only.
Runners should also arrive early as parking is offsite and transportation to the course is provided by shuttle.