Remembering Pat Tillman: Athlete, scholar, soldier

The annual Pat’s Run bringing together 30,000 strangers for military scholarships to carry-on his legacy
The humble hometown hero gave up his pro football career to enlist after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan 19 years ago this month.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Apr. 10, 2023 at 9:00 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Nineteen years ago this month, Pat Tillman died serving overseas in Afghanistan. The humble hometown hero gave up his pro football career to enlist after 9/11. We talked with his brother-in-law, Alex Garwood, who says Pat would be the first to say his sacrifice was no greater than any other soldier. “He got cheated,” Garwood said.

The two became fast friends, then brothers. “My wife, Christine and Pat’s wife, Marie, are sisters, so that makes him my brother-in-law. We both married our high school sweethearts,” Garwood said.

Reflecting on the loss is bittersweet, knowing Pat had so much more to give and do. “Selfishly, we think about our boys growing up and not knowing their uncle. They got cheated out of spending time with him. I got cheated, you got cheated, but, you know who really freaking got cheated? He did. Pat got cheated out of this and you can argue that he lived this very full life. But it was only 27 years.”

Pat made a name for himself in college, an athlete and a scholar defying critics who said he was too small to play big-time football. In his junior year, he helped lead the Sun Devils to an undefeated season all the way to the Rose Bowl, graduating early from ASU with a 3.85 GPA. He went on to the NFL, the 226th pick in the seventh round of the ‘98 draft, deeply loyal to the coaches who took a chance on him. “He turned down the Rams to loyalty to the team that drafted him but also the men that invested in him,” Garwood said.

Pat ran marathons and got his masters, never content to just settle into his success. Then, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Pat enlisted with his brother Kevin, leaving his football career to join the elite Army Rangers. “He gave up a lot, but I think something that’s so so telling, is that he didn’t see that he was giving up any more than the next person,” Garwood said. Pat deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004. “Who knows how long he would have lived or what he would have done. But those first 27 years were amazing,” Garwood said.

A constantly curious, genuinely humble spirit gone too soon, still today, inspiring thousands of strangers through the annual Pat’s Run on April 15, 2023. “We were running in Arizona, and people were running at Bagram Air Force Base, people were running in Iraq, people running in Japan, people are running literally all over the world to honor this man and what he represents, which is so powerful,” Garwood said.

Alex knows nothing will bring his friend, his brother, back. The annual run in his honor, seeding scholarships for military families to carry on his legacy, is an important tribute to celebrate the man who never stopped striving to do more for others. “Just look out and just at the sea of people, and that they’re all there for a common purpose,” Garwood said.