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Brackenridge girl running to raise money for veterans

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 1:36 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Sarah Young, 12, of Brackenridge along with her father, Jason, show off Sarah's new T-shirts that her team will wear during the American Odyssey Relay from Gettysburg to Washington D.C. The photo was taken in Brackenridge on April 23, 2013.

While many of her peers will kick back and relax this weekend, Sarah Young will be taking to the road, literally.

Actually, the Highlands Middle School sixth-grader on Friday will start an odyssey — a two-day American Odyssey Relay from Gettysburg to Washington, D.C.

Sarah, 12, of Brackenridge will run two legs of the 200-mile relay with 11 other people, including her father, Jason, 44.

They are part of “Sarah's Striders,” the team she formed with the help of Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB). It is one of the charitable groups that benefits from fundraising done through the American Odyssey Relays. Sarah also is raising $500 for Team RWB on her own.

“I've always wanted to raise money for Team RWB because they specialize in reintegrating military veterans into civilian communities,” Sarah said.

According to its website, Team RWB, founded in 2010, is transforming the way America supports its combat veterans.

It's doing that by creating communities of veterans, their families, and American citizens who enjoy interaction through physical and social activities and events.

It also has a related group, Team Rubicon, which involves ex-servicemen in response to disasters and emergencies, according to Kate Bielak of Harrison, outreach director for Team RWB's Western Pennsylvania chapter.

“Some organizations want to treat veterans as victims,” Bielak said. “But Team Red, White and Blue and Team Rubicon look on them as assets to the community who should be used.”

Rosaries to running

A little more than a year ago, Sarah Young didn't know what Team Red, White and Blue was.

She found out because of rosary beads.

Sarah is a member of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Harrison and started making sets of rosary beads to distribute to Catholic servicemen when she was in the fourth grade.

“She was making them for about a year and had a hard time delivering them because most of the places delivering packages to servicemen overseas wouldn't take religious items,” her mother, Jolynn Young said.

The Youngs found out that Bielak, a member of their parish, had a brother, Army Capt. Jim Nemec, serving in Afghanistan. With the help of Bielak and Nemec, Sarah was able to get the rosary beads delivered to servicemen in Afghanistan.

During that process, Sarah discovered that Bielak was involved with Team RWB and learned about the group and its activities last year, including the relay. Her parents said she wanted to have a team in last year's relay but did not have enough time to form one.

Running is something that seems to come naturally to her. She trained with the team and ran in middle school cross country events this year on an unofficial basis because, as a sixth-grader, she was ineligible. She also has run in about a dozen 5K races.

“I usually place in them, too,” Sarah said. “That's the fun part.”

Jason Young, who will compete in his fourth Pittsburgh Marathon the weekend after the relay, trains with his daughter.

“Her goal is to cross the finish line ahead of her dad someday,” Jolynn Young said.

The more immediate goal was getting into this year's American Odyssey Relay.

“She told me last year when things didn't materialize, she was going to run in the relay this year with or without a team,” her mother said.

Sarah and her father are the only Alle-Kiski Valley residents on her team, and some are from other parts of the Pittsburgh region.

But when she was having trouble filling out the rest of the team, Team RWB came to the rescue, putting out the word to its members.

That resulted in people from New York and Ohio joining Sarah's Striders, along with a person who is coming from Florida to participate.

Although the minimum age for running the relay is 18, Sarah was granted a waiver because she wanted to do it so badly, her father said.

But because of that, she can't run more than two of the 36 legs of the relay and is not allowed to run at night. Her father will pick up her third leg. Also, her waiver means the team will not be eligible to win the relay.

“But yet, there are 10 other people who, knowing that, wanted to run on her team,” Jason Young said with a touch of pride.

No connection needed

Bielak said one of the amazing things about the Youngs and their participation with and membership in Team RWB is that they have no connection to the military.

“This is a family that knows the need just through their own passion for our country,” Bielak said. “They took this and they said ‘We want to help.' That is so rare for families who don't have a military connection.”

Asked why she is driven to help veterans, Sarah said, “Because they make such a big sacrifice to keep us safe. There's always something more you can do.”

It is an example Sarah's attitude that Bielak finds uplifting and inspiring.

“If we could just harness that and pump it into the hearts of all Americans with an IV to be more like her,” Bielak said, “we would be a better country for it.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 ortyerace@tribweb.com.

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