ENCINITAS — Carrying American flags and wearing weighted vets in the summer heat, roughly two dozen residents walked Wounded Warrior Project’s “Carry Forward 5K” on Saturday, August 29 at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.
The Encinitas-based team, led by Reece. C. Jensen, owner of Physical Rehabilitation Network, leads the state of California in fundraising, raising over $9,000 in support of injured veterans and their families.
Gathering at Moonlight Beach, a group of veterans, locals and families dressed in patriotic garb brought plenty of American flags, weights and dedication, walking to Beacons Beach and back, stopping to do push-ups along the way.
In previous years, the “Carry Forward 5K” has been held in-person at Liberty Station in San Diego, attracting over 1,400 people in 2019.
This year, however, the pandemic forced Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) to adjust to a virtual setting, encouraging supporters to create their own routes, follow along on an officially sanctioned app, and share in their own communities.
“Today is our celebratory walk,” Jensen said. “These people are my friends, my wife’s friends, my patients… that’s our squad and we’re the #1 fundraiser in California. We’re here to support.”
According to WWP, the “Carry Forward 5K” encourages supporters to participate in three manners — Flag, Fitness or Fierce. Participants may carry a flag to show “support and patriotism”; carry weights to “represent the responsibility veterans carry”; or “carry another person, symbolizing one warrior carrying each other.”
Mercedes Noonan, WWP resource development manager, attended Saturday’s event in support of the Encinitas group’s successful fundraising and enthusiasm for helping wounded veterans.
“Not only does WWP host the ‘Carry Forward 5K’ in four major cities including San Diego, but we’re excited to give our folks the opportunity to do something in their local community where they can host their own virtual walk,” Noonan said. “It’s a movement and I think it brings us together in a way that allows us to feel united right now.”
According to Noonan, WWP has shifted both their fundraising events and the manner in which they help veterans themselves.
“During this pandemic, there’s been a significant financial burden on some of our warriors,” Noonan said. “At the onset, we were able to provide $11 million in grants to warriors impacted by COVID at home.”
In total, WWP was able to donate $11 million to 11,000 veterans in need of financial assistance during the pandemic, and starting in September, will provide an additional $7 million in financial support to military and veteran caregivers as a part of the organization’s Independence Program.
“Our mission starts and ends with the warrior journey and that’s what guides us with whatever we do,” Noonan said. “When we shift and change a program around, it’s our warriors we’re keeping in mind.”
In the course of the last year, the “Carry Forward 5K” has registered 800 virtual participants in the state of California and raising over $119,000 for wounded veterans and their families. Those looking to host an event themselves, can visit WWP’s website and register online.