The former Army Ranger who walked through Payson April 9 saying “Pat Tillman’s memory must live on” has reached San Diego, ending his 3,000-mile trek.
Rory Fanning, 32, began “Walk for Pat” Sept. 17, 2008 at Virginia Beach, Va. with a goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean while earning pledges for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
On May 18, he wrote in his blog, “The sun glowed through a light haze and the lip of the Pacific Ocean said, ‘What are you waiting for?’ I was 42 yards from what I had spent the last eight months dreaming of — a finish line.”
A picture of Fanning standing on a San Diego beach shows him still wearing the No. 42 (Pat Tillman’s jersey number while playing football at Arizona State) that he wore most of his long trip.
During his journey, Fanning passed through Norfolk, Va. Chattanooga, Tenn., Huntsville, Ala., Lubbock, Texas, Roswell, N.M., and in early April, reached Heber where Black Mesa Hotshots cheered his every stride.
During his walk through the Rim Country, Fanning was taken in by a Payson family who provided him with meals, a shower, a chance to wash his clothes and sleep in a comfortable bed.
The family also took him to Camp Tontozona to visit the site where Tillman trained while a member of the Arizona State University Sun Devils football team.
Days earlier he met White Mountain Independent reporter Karen Warnick who housed him during his trek from Eagar-Springerville to Show Low.
Warnick calls Fanning, “One of the most amazing young men I have ever met.”
Fanning says he was greatly influenced by his Army buddy’s leadership qualities and began the walk to honor him, as well as earn money for the foundation.
“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,” he said. “Pat sacrificed his life, his family and an amazing job for freedom.”
With his walk at an end, Fanning will return to his family in Chicago where he worked as a mortgage banker before setting out on his journey of a lifetime.
For more about Fanning or to contribute to the Pat Tillman Foundation go to: http://www.walkforpat.org.
During other parts of his journey, Fanning has slept in the woods, behind Waffle Houses and Walmarts, building small fires for food and warmth.
Near Yuma, after he had mailed his sleeping bag home, he slept in two garbage bags next to a feedlot. Days later near El Centro, Calif., he battled 107-degree heat and was forced to sidestep a rattlesnake coiled only a few feet from where he was walking.
Although there have been many hardships along the way, Fanning maintains the challenge has been well worth the effort.
“It’s been a great journey. I’m loving it,” he said while walking west on Highway 260 near Kohl’s Ranch.
After leaving Payson, he headed for Tempe where he was the starter for Pat’s Run, an event held each April to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
The run left a lasting impression on Fanning.
“The course ran 4.2 miles and finished in (ASU) stadium at the 42-yard line,” he said. “Images of Pat flashed on the jumbotron and the ASU football team lined the entrance and cheered every race participant into the stadium. It was incredibly moving.”
More than 20,000 walkers and runners showed up for the event which celebrates the life of Tillman, a former ASU and Arizona Cardinals football star who gave up a lucrative $3.6 million professional contract to volunteer for military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan in April 2004,Tillman was killed in a controversial friendly fire incident.
Fanning and Tillman served together when both were members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Army Regiment.
Both joined the Army following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C.