Twenty-two years ago, the American people made a promise to never forget those who lost their lives in one of the greatest tragedies in our country’s history on Sept.11, 2001.
With an American flag raised high into the air, senior Alex Westover took this promise one step further.
For the fourth year in a row, college students and members of the Miami community laced up for the annual UM Ruck to Remember, a 9.11-mile ruck march honoring the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Westover came up with the idea in September 2020 – a time period marked by social and political unrest during a polarizing election season.
“I started all of this because I wanted to show that our younger generation, to whom Sept. 11, 2001 is a historical event and not something they experienced, still remembers our promise: Never Forget,” Westover said. “In a year of political change and dissidence, I wanted to be a small, quiet symbol that maybe, just maybe, everything was still alright in the world.”
The tradition began when Westover contacted the University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) to borrow an American flag for a 9.11-mile ruck of his own. In addition to donating a flag for his mission, UMPD officers Sgt. Boris Boisson and Lt. Benjamin Hedrick joined him on his ruck as well.
Shortly after, Westover’s initiative was recognized and celebrated by University Communications, who later published a piece acknowledging his dedication to honoring the law enforcement and first responders of 9/11.
Since then, Westover’s mission has set off a chain reaction within the Miami community.
“The outpouring of support was so tremendous that I immediately reached out to start planning a properly scheduled event the next year. I wanted to continue to remember this day with the ruck march, as it is an activity derived from the military and adopted by many law enforcement and first responder agencies worldwide,” Westover said.
This year, a group of over 100 participants rallied by the U statue at 5:00 a.m. last Monday, preparing themselves for the considerable trek to Tropical Park and back.
Westover was thrilled to see a dedicated group of individuals, including UMPD officers, UM and FIU ROTC and the Coral Gables Fire Rescue, all coming together to give back to the community.
“There is a quote that I heard somewhere, and it goes, ‘You can go really fast by yourself. Really, really fast, but to go far, you have to go together.’ I think that embodies this event really well,” Westover said. “Sure, I could do this by myself every year and get a camera to follow me, but the impact of the occasion would be so much less.”
Halfway through the ruck, participants completed a group workout consisting of nine rounds of 11 ruck squats, 11 push-ups, 11 sit-ups and 11 mountain climbers.
With the sun rising higher in the sky and the Miami heat settling onto the pavement, the group forged to complete the remainder of the ruck in nearly 90 degree weather.
The group was welcomed back to campus by a Coral Gables Fire Rescue truck, raising a grand American flag high into the air.
“Coming back down Stanford drive today and seeing Coral Gables Fire Rescue there with that massive flag made me pretty emotional, and seeing the students walking by taking photos or tossing us a thumbs-up is just proof that what we are doing is having a fantastic impact,” Westover said. “The outpouring of good will from the University to keep sharing our message has been truly amazing, and I am continuously appreciative of the trust this community placed in me to bring this all together.”
Upon arriving back on campus, the winded yet accomplished participants gathered around The Rock as trumpet player and junior meteorology major Lance Kreitzer sounded off taps.
“I’m just here to pay my respects to remember the people who died on 9/11,” Kreitzer said. “I wasn’t born during 9/11, but the notion of being willing to lay down your life just so others may live is a very noble thing, and not many people can do it.”
After catching their breath, several members of the University’s Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC reflected on the deeper implications of the 9.11-mile ruck, staring up at the blue Miami sky and remembering that day just 22 years ago.
“I’m here today in memory of all the people who passed away on 9/11, but not only that, it is also for the men and women who served overseas because of 9/11–defending our country and standing up for what is right,” freshman finance major Max Muller said.
While the ruck served as a powerful tribute to American first responders and civilians, it also symbolized a greater desire to achieve unity and camaraderie.
“It’s where you can get up and do something for the person next to you,” senior sociology and criminology major Jamari King said. “That’s what life is all about: Being resilient, rolling with the punches, and turning something so tragic into something with so much meaning.”
While the event lasted a single day, Westover has brought something more to campus that will leave a legacy.
“The impact we have goes so far beyond those 9.11 miles, it is reminding people that unity and compassion still exists, and that we have not forgotten about those who give everything so we may enjoy the freedoms we do today,” said Westover.
“I want people to walk away with sore legs and a full heart, that’s the truth of it.”