- November 10, 2016
The sun was slowly beginning its crawl into the morning sky, peeking just barely over the tops of the tall oak trees. Birds chirped as they awoke from their slumber by the sounds of friendly neighborhood chatter. Baldwin Park was covered in red, white and blue. However, those who looked closely realized the colors went far deeper than the surface.
Something truly special was in the air the morning of Sept. 11, 2021.Maybe it was the way the community gathered to support their wounded service men and women. Maybe it was how military families and friends celebrated the annual Patriot Day. Maybe it was the moment of silence by participants at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, where time seemed to stop.
This year was the 12th anniversary of Central Florida Navy League’s Wounded Warfighter Lone Sailor 5K and 10K.
The event, which began in 2009, raises money for charities that support wounded service men and women and the Central Florida military communities. Throughout the years, the organization has contributed more than $400,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, Building Homes for Heroes, The Camaraderie Foundation and the Lone Sailor Memorial of Central Florida.
This year’s event included rewards for community members involved, including premium race shirts for all participants and a newly designed, limited-edition race medal, as well as a new race for kids.
In 2019, the race attracted 800 participants. In 2020, runners participated virtually because of the pandemic. This year, the race included new additions to keep participants safe, including masks, staggered starts, social distancing and the option to run virtually.
Although this year’s race was not as large, what it lacked in size, it made up for in heart and spirit.
Beth Jeck celebrated turning 61 by completing the race.
“Flight 93 went down where my farm is and my sister-in-law is Navy, my whole family is Marines, so we support this whole project,” Jeck says. “I love these people, and I love that even in times that are hard like these, we can come together and look toward a brighter future.”
Lisa Coe is not only the current president for CFNL but also its first female president. She does all of this as a civilian.
“I never served in the military, but I have this overwhelming passion for the military and our Navy,” Coe says. “I am super blessed and grateful for all that I have, and I’ve worked hard but also had a lot of great people guide me.”
CFNL is the top Navy League council out of 240 councils across the world, Coe says.
The non-profit beneficiaries for the program include about 2,200 children in programs such as Sea Cadets, JROTC and MJROTC in Central Florida. CFNL awards scholarships, provides uniforms, connections, assistance and more. The group also works with sister sea services, including the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant, to host events such as barbecues and Christmas parties for families at port.
This year’s event benefited the work of the Central Florida Navy League, the Camaraderie Foundation and Wake for Warriors.
Scott Nicholson, a member of the Sea Cadets, which helped run the event, has been involved with the cadets for seven years.
“My dream has always been to serve in the Navy,” Nicholson says. “I have learned leadership, discipline, honor, courage and commitment, the Navy’s core values.”
He says the unit helps with the event every year.
“We come out to the community and help as much as we can, and we are honored to be here on the anniversary of 9/11,” Nicholson says.
For more than 30 years, Baldwin Park was home to the Naval Training Center Orlando ,which was the first co-ed Navy base. CFNL honored the rich Navy history in the Central Florida area by building the Lone Sailor Navy Memorial and the Blue Jacket Recruit Statue at Blue Jacket Park, where the race took place.
Will Castillo, one of the many veterans who attended the event, says he came to support the community — especially on a day that is difficult for many. He first enlisted in the military after the attacks on 9/11.
“Twenty years after 9/11, we have lost a lot of love and support and community for the military and the patriotism and the flag, so I come out and try to support every part; it’s the least I can do,” Castillo says. “I had the honor to serve my country, and I can’t do that anymore, but I can be an outstanding citizen.”
While Castillo served, he experienced combat and was faced with many challenges. He lost two of his closest friends, his leg and, ultimately, himself.
Castillo says hope is what kept him going. He now serves his country as a Paralympian. Castillo currently is ranked No. 1 in the United States for seated para bobsleigh and top 10 in the world.