Rory Fanning is convinced fallen Army Ranger Pat Tillman’s contributions should never be forgotten.
And he’s walking across the country to prove it.
Saying “Pat Tillman’s memory must live on,” Fanning passed through Payson April 9, on the way to Tempe. Yesterday, April 13, he was near Sunflower.
On Saturday, he will participate in the Pat’s Run festivities at Arizona State University, where Tillman graduated in three years and became an All-Pac 10 football player for the Sun Devils. Later, he played for the Arizona Cardinals, before forsaking a multi-million-dollar contract to volunteer for service in Afghanistan, where he was killed in a controversial friendly-fire incident.
Following Pat’s Run, Fanning will continue on his journey to his own finish line at Hermosa Beach, Calif.
His eight-month walk began Sept. 17, 2008 at Virginia Beach, Va. and before he’s finished, Fanning estimates he’ll have traveled more than 3,000 miles and taken 7 million steps.
Besides keeping Tillman’s legacy alive, the 32-year-old Chicago native says, “I am walking across the United States to raise $3.6 million for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
That is the amount Tillman turned down to fight for his country following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Now Fanning wonders how many captains of industry or political leaders would have made the sacrifice Tillman did.
“Reading the headlines the past couple of months has driven home the realization that our country does not have enough leaders like Pat,” he said. “ What distinguishes Pat is he had the ultimate distractions in his back pocket — money and fame ... only to give them up for the pain and toil of (a) greater cause.”
Most everyone in Arizona has heard Tillman’s tragic story — he was killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. The Army released an initially inaccurate account of the incident, even to Tillman’s family, which fought to learn the real story.
Like Tillman, Fanning joined the Army Rangers after 9/11. The two met and served together as members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Army Regiment.
Fanning calls Tillman, “an amazing human being, very engaged, well read, terrific listener and a compassionate guy.”
After completing his tour of duty, Fanning returned to Chicago and became a self-employed mortgage banker.
But he had an itch to scratch and that couldn’t be done sitting in an executive’s chair.
Mustering some of former friend’s amazing spirit, he set out on the walk to raise awareness for the Pat Tillman Foundation, which aims to inspire people to make positive changes in themselves and the world around them. The foundation offers scholarships, leadership programs and a myriad of youth growth activities.
After walking through 12 states carrying a 45-pound back pack, Fanning has raised $21,000, but continues to believe he will raise the full amount.
For that to happen, he says “Each person who visits my site or sees me walking, talks to 50 or a 100 people over the next four months; and they have a discussion about the joy, the pain and the truth of following the heart, and use Pat as a reference — and then throw $1 or $5 in the pot.”
During the first few months of his trek, Fanning has been an attractive attractive draw speaking to the NFL Alumni Association in Dallas, the Texas Tech football team at the request of the school’s athletic director and to students at several high schools. In Huntsville, Ala. he received a new pair of shoes and a key to the city from Mayor Tommy Battle.
He’s also been featured in newspapers, on television news shows and in radio interviews.
Passing through Heber, he was greeted by the Black Mesa Hot Shots who cheered his every step.
Along Fanning’s journey, he uses his Blackberry to keep a daily blog and post pictures to his Web site. A GPS device also allows viewers, and his family, to check his exact position.
He also passes time picking up bits of roadside trash.
“I have to do something to feel productive,” he said last Thursday while walking west on SR 260 near the Tonto Village turnoff.
Although Fanning spends most of his non-walking time camping in the woods, he has been invited into several admirers’ homes for dinner, a shower and a chance to wash his clothes and sleep in a bed.
“People have been really good to me,” he said.
Such was the case near Springerville where White Mountain Independent reporter Karen Warnick took an immediate liking to Fanning and invited him for an evening of rest and good food.
She calls Fanning, “One of the most amazing young men I’ve ever met — I wanted to adopt him.”
Warning also says Fanning stays loyal and true to his cause always refusing rides for the walking part of the journey, “he covers about 20 miles a day.”
Late last week, Fanning was taken in by a Payson family who had heard of his epic journey. He spent the night in their home enjoying an enchilada dinner and watching television broadcasts of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The family also took him to Camp Tontozona to see where Tillman trained for four seasons while a Sun Devil football player.
“What a magnificent place that is,” he said.
While in rural Arizona, Fanning has found plenty of peace and solace camping in the state’s national forests. But in the big cities, including Dallas, Texas, he’s slept behind waffle houses and Walmarts, building small fires for food and warmth.
Those hardships, however, don’t deter his enthusiasm.
“It’s been a great journey, I’m loving it and I’m doing real well,” he said.
Now about 20 miles from Tempe, Fanning is itching to reach the college town where his former Ranger sidekick once was the talk of the campus.
“I’m excited to officially meet everyone at the Pat Tillman Foundation,” he said.
For more about Fanning, his journey, the Pat Tillman Foundation or to make contributions, log on to http://www.