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Gloversville native runs with a purpose

LaPorta takes part in New York Run for the Fallen

GLOVERSVILLE — City native Andrew LaPorta is a civilian who started carrying an American flag when going out on his regular run in recent years to recognize the daily sacrifice of service members after friends helped opened his eyes to their lifelong dedication.

Now, LaPorta is taking part in an ongoing effort to raise suicide awareness by completing 22 pushups a day representing the average number of U.S. veterans who die by suicide each day.

LaPorta, who now lives in Mechanicville after growing up in Gloversville, was already a longtime runner who participated in recreational road races when a friend who serves in the U.S. National Guard told him about the New York Run for the Fallen.

The more than 140-mile run from Syracuse to Albany is an annual event that sees service members and civilians run a distance representing the number of New York fallen service members who died from any circumstance since 2000.

The New York Run for the Fallen takes place in the second week in June as an effort to honor and remember fallen service members from the state. The group run takes place over three days with participants carrying the American flag, the Honor and Remember flag and the state flag while stopping along the route to read aloud the names of fallen service members sometimes in the presence of surviving relatives, known as Gold Star families.

LaPorta began participating in the run honoring the memories of fallen service members two year ago and found the experience to be eye opening as he heard firsthand the stories of Gold Star families who have experienced the pain of losing loved ones who served.

“It really moved me and woke me up to this is what goes on all the time unfortunately when a soldier passes away,” said LaPorta. “One of the main reasons we do the Run for the Fallen is a soldier will die once and die a second time when their name is never spoken again, that’s why we read their names and rank, so they are never forgotten.”

Since that first year, LaPorta has continued to participate in the annual New York Run for the Fallen each and he also began carrying the American flag whenever he runs on his own as another gesture to honor the sacrifice of service members.

“It’s a reminder,” said LaPorta. “That there’s still people out there serving our country and people that gave a lot for that flag and I just don’t want people to forget about it.”

During his personal runs, LaPorta said he is sometimes spotted and stopped by a veteran or first responder who express their appreciation for the acknowledgment and share their stories.

“The last two years I’ve been running with the flag all of the time, because of that I’ve been able to meet veterans who appreciate the flag being carried and first responders,” said LaPorta. “I always think about what our soldiers are sacrificing and I’m just some guy running with a flag, it’s nothing compared to what they do … It’s the very least I can do.”

After this year’s New York Run for the Fallen that went on as scheduled in June with modifications to reduce person-person contact due to the coronavirus, a runner suggested that LaPorta and their friends begin completing 22 pushups a day until next year’s run to raise awareness for veteran suicides relating that some of the fallen soldiers whose names are read each year died by suicide.

“I just had no idea, so it definitely opened my eyes,” said LaPorta.

The group took up the effort, some as a personal effort while LaPorta and a few others began recording and sharing their daily pushup sessions over social media hoping to raise awareness of the suicide rate among veterans, with an average of 22 U.S. veterans dying by suicide each day.

“It’s that silent battle that they are fighting but nobody knows, so by us and many other organizations doing 22 pushups a day it’s just reminding people to talk to people, communicate, find out what’s going on or say hello,” said LaPorta. “When they come back to civilian life it’s a transition, me, as a civilian can’t understand. I do understand the need to talk or get professional help.”

LaPorta also pointed to the effort as a broad reminder to the general public that people around them may be facing personal struggles and could benefit from a friendly ear and a message to anyone in need of support that help is available.

“I encourage everyone if they know a veteran or first responder or person like that, just have a conversation, reach out to them, it may make a difference,” said LaPorta. “I’m not a professional, but I try to be out there to remind people that there is professional help available and there are people that care about you that don’t even know you.”

LaPorta has committed to completing 22 pushups each day until the next New York Run for the Fallen in June 2021 but said he may continue the effort beyond then as a reminder to himself.

“It just reminds me that there are people out there struggling with a battle and that you could walk right by them every day and not even know it,” said LaPorta. “Next June it’s not going to stop unfortunately so I may continue it.”

If you or someone you know is in need of help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Information on suicide prevention and crisis resources can also be found online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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