Boy runs in Augusta to raise money for families of fallen heroes
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The 12-year-old boy put their gathered purpose into perspective.
“There’s been a total of near 85 first responders who have lost their life as a … member in the surrounding Georgia and South Carolina area, and that’s who we’re going to be running for tonight,” Zechariah Cartledge said.
These were Zechariah’s words before he led supporters and first responders Sunday in a one-mile run for all fallen heroes at the Family YMCA on Wheeler Road in Augusta.
As the sun set, lights flashed and sirens blared as various patrol and fire department vehicles rounded the YMCA’s track along with the dozens running on foot. Augusta firefighters and various members of local sheriff’s offices and public safety departments ran behind Zechariah as he led the pack, holding up his signature flag honoring firefighters and police.
The 12-year-old boy from Orlando does not have any immediate family members who are first responders, but was inspired to do these runs after taking part in a Tunnel to Towers 5K when he was nine.
“I was in the run and I was inspired by the first responders that were around me, all in their full gear running,” Zechariah said. “I decided to look up more about Tunnel to Towers and when I found out they honor our first responders and 9/11 heroes, that really inspired me to do something that I love, which is running, to help somebody that I love, which is first responders.”
Zechariah took that inspiration and founded Running 4 Heroes in 2019, a nonprofit organization honoring the families of first responders killed in the line of duty. Over the years, he has zig-zagged the nation doing runs alongside first responders and raising money toward financial relief for affected families as well as the purchase of American flags. Zechariah runs with those flags, and when finished, gives them to first responder families who have lost their heroes.
Since starting, he has run a total of 888 miles honoring 888 first responders; and has raised over $100,000 since 2020.
“I wish I’d never have to run for this specific reason again, because it’s another first responder we’ve lost,” Zechariah said. “But I’ll be doing this until I’m at least 16. I wanna help out as much people as possible.”
Zechariah got some help in that mission from SUPPORT 1, a North Augusta-based organization dedicated to supporting emergency service workers. He was invited to Augusta by SUPPORT 1, and during the group’s golf tournament in Aiken on Monday, they presented him with a check for $5,000 to continue his work.
“Obviously we wanna see everyone go home, but we know that everybody doesn’t always go home,” said Michael Ford, SUPPORT 1’s co-founder and vice chair. “He’s honoring them in his fashion and we’re helping those that are left behind.”
Many who ran with Zechariah saw and felt that support, like Augusta Fire Lt. Trey Cashwell and Kamden Runyon of Augusta, whose grandfather was a law enforcement officer who was shot by robbers.
“It’s pretty cool, the dedication to it, the discipline. He knows he’s doing a good thing,” Cashwell said.
“That’s pretty amazing that he’s been running about 900-ish miles for all these fallen heroes,” Runyon said.
But one of the proudest people at Sunday’s run was Zechariah’s father, Chad Cartledge.
“He’s really serious about this, this is something that he doesn’t want to stop,” Cartledge said. “We’re just proud … a lot of kids right now, they spend most of their free time just playing video games, and don’t get me wrong, Zechariah does that too. But, to only be 12 and have made such a big impact in the lives of so many people just by going out and spending just 10 to 15 minutes to go run a mile, it’s pretty surreal.”
Zechariah does his runs on weekends so he can still go to in-person school. His next stop will be to Indiana on May 30 to run in a 5K honoring two fallen first responders in the area.