For many, the annual Pat's Run is not a race. It's an event and celebration. It's an opportunity to celebrate the life and deeds of Pat Tillman, whom many marveled at when he played football for Arizona State and the Cardinals, and whom many more continue to honor after he died while serving in Afghanistan.
Jeff Lewis falls into both of those categories, but he's added a third. He runs the 4.2-mile event because he can, which was anything but a given about six years ago.
"I don't do it to brag, that's for sure," said Lewis, who completed his fifth race at Saturday's 7th annual event which attracted a record 28,000-plus to Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium. "I do it because it's a very special event."
Saturday's run was special to Tempe's Jeremy Zarins, 38, who was the overall winner finishing in 20 minutes, 33 seconds. Lindsey Davis, 26, took the women's division in 22:26. Pat's Run raises funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation, which helps provide scholarships to current and veteran military men and women. More than 100 Tillman Military Scholars have been awarded more than $1 million in scholarships since 2005.
The reason it's so special to Lewis is because he's still alive. Lewis lost both his hands and feet in April 2005 when his body was fighting a common infection. The circulation to his limbs was cut off and he experienced kidney failure, cardiac arrest and was given a less than one percent chance of surviving.
Following three weeks of unconsciousness - during which time medical professionals tried to persuade his girlfriend Carol to let him go - Lewis finally awoke. But both arms had been amputated a few inches above the wrist and both legs below the knees.
"I run now, not because I particularly enjoy it, but because I can," said Lewis, who set a personal record in the race this year by finishing in 1 hour, 13 minutes. "My goal is not to ever have to use that wheelchair again.
"My motto is, 'If you don't, you won't.' That's why I get up and move around. You have to."
Lewis, 57, continues to be an avid golfer, bowler and recently added swimming to his exercise regimen. The former high school math teacher - he taught for 15 years at both Westwood and Mountain View high schools - now teaches part-time at Mesa Community College.
Lewis said he participated in his first Pat's Run in 2007 because Tillman was a hero to him. Lewis earned both of his degrees from ASU and followed Tillman's career while he was with the Cardinals.
"I like to support events that make a difference, and this one does," Lewis said. "I think it's a good program, giving scholarships. Plus, I meet fantastic people every year."
Lewis said the race is the longest event he does. He typically joins 3- and 5-kilometer events. The pounding nature of running can irritate his prosthetics. He said the last 100 yards of Pat's Run are the most troublesome, yet also the most rewarding.
"Going up that ramp into the stadium can be painful," he said. "But every time I get to the top and start running down the tunnel onto the field, the announcer says my name. It makes me feel like I'm a football player."
Jeff and Carol - who were married while Jeff was still in the hospital - are now peer visitors for recent amputees and their families. They visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., and Jeff was supposed to serve as an inspiration to injured veterans.
"It was the other way around," Jeff said. "Those guys want to jump out of bed, start running around and go back to duty. They are amazing."
Jeff said he will continue to participate in Pat's Run as much for the tradition as anything else.
"It's expected now," said Lewis, who also does motivational speaking engagements. "I get calls all the time from people who want to run with me. I want to show people you don't have to listen to anyone who tells you you can't do something. You are the only person who can get in your own way."