At age three, Ford is too young to understand U.S. history. When he passes the hero signs that surround the lakes at Lions Club Park, he will probably be more interested in looking for fish than for American heroes. His grandfather, Bob Gravley, on the other hand, has a unique appreciation for veterans, our country, and a special connection to the Honoring our Heroes Marathon event: he founded it.
It all began when Bob’s marathoning son Ed challenged his father to doing the Outer Banks Marathon in 2015. Bob walked all 26.2 miles, at age 79. He came home from North Carolina with a vision for an annual marathon from Salem to Rolla, to benefit veterans. Himself a veteran and an American Legion member, Bob took this idea to Post 99, who agreed to sponsor the event. A team of volunteers was formed, and Bob’s idea took flight. Now coming up on its fourth running, all proceeds (almost $40,000 thus far) are donated to local veteran’s causes. Gravley says of Heroes, “this year I am switching from the marathon to the 5K, so that I can walk with four generations of family,” including great-grandchildren four-year-old Bebe and brother, Ford.
Bob’s son Bobby and his grand-daughter Sara Novack complete the family team. Bobby says, “My father is a lifelong inspiration to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to honor him and the many heroes of this marathon.” Sara and family’s move to Missouri four years ago has been a boon to Great-Grandpa Bob, who adores his great-grandchildren. Bebe and Ford love spending time with both Bob at his home in the country south of Salem. They ask Sara every day, “is it a farm day today?” Sara works as a mortgage broker and juggles work, her husband Cody’s residency as a medical student at St. Louis University, and two little children. When asked about training for the 5K while being a full-time breadwinner and a mom, Sara said, “Grandpa is our Hero, training for the 5K is easy, being a hero is big work!” Other Gravley family members are or have been involved; daughter Kim and son Ed have done the full HEROES marathon, and adopted daughter Sherry Hillebert leads the team of American Legion Auxiliary members who feed the runners before and after the race.
“We are excited to have added a 10K this year: we offer a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Relay, and Full Marathon so there is a distance for everyone!” states Shawn Bolerjack, Race Director. “Full and half marathoners get a free lunch and massages. All receive medals, shirts, and photography. We are so grateful for the support of our community; the sponsors, the volunteers and everyone involved in this event.”
Anyone interested in participating may still sign up to run or walk from three to 26.2 miles by registering through website, www.heroesmarathon.com. The community is invited to come out and cheer (see website for maps) for local participants, for runners from across the US, and for the Gravleys, who challenge all generations to come and honor our Veterans.