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Pat Tillman -- With His Foundation -- Continues To Inspire

Apr 21, 2021
A past (pre-COVID) photo of just some of the hundreds of the Pat Tillman Foundation scholars.

by Peyton Clark, Cronkite School of Journalism Class of 2021

"Somewhere inside, we hear a voice. It leads us in the direction of the person we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow."
Patrick Tillman was born on November 6, 1976, in San Jose, California. He was the oldest of three. He was a devoted son, brother, friend and athlete. All who knew Tillman reiterated that he was a caring, protective person and a natural leader with a tendency to push limits – in life, the classroom and on the field. 
He attended Leland High School in San Jose, California from 1990 to 1994, where he developed his well-known challenger mentality. Following high school, Tillman received a scholarship to play for the Sun Devils, where he led ASU to the 1997 Rose Bowl after an undefeated season. He also earned three consecutive selections to the Pac-10 All-Academic Football Team, a 1st team Academic All-American honor, as well as the NCAA's Postgraduate Scholarship for academic and athletic excellence. While not on the field, Tillman earned his degree in Marketing, graduating summa cum laude from ASU's prestigious W.P. Carey School of Business in three and a half years with a 3.85 GPA. 
Upon graduation, the Arizona Cardinals recognized excellence and perseverance in Tillman and selected him in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft where he became the team's starting safety and broke the franchise record for tackles in 2000 with 224.

Tillman told a reporter, the day following Sept. 11, 2001, "At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven't done a damn thing."
His protective and passionate personality and good nature ultimately drove him to put the ball down and helmet up, to replace it with a badge of armor around our country. In the spring of 2002, he announced his decision to place his NFL career on hold to enlist in the U.S. Army. 
Tillman joined the U.S. Army that July, committing to a three-year term, getting assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. He served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. On the evening of April 22, 2004, Tillman's unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide.
While he broke records and excelled tremendously in the classroom and on the field, it is the way Tillman chose to live his life that is truly inspiring. His principles and service are his true legacy. 


Shortly after his passing, Tillman's family and friends started the Pat Tillman Foundation to carry forward that legacy by giving military service members, veterans and spouses who embody those principles the educational tools and support to reach their fullest potential as leaders, no matter how they choose to serve.
"The reason we exist is because we have someone whose legacy has made such a significant impact on the world, and we're happy to support those who want to honor him and carry out his legacy," said Erica Abdnour, content marketing manager for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
The Pat Tillman Foundation has provided academic scholarships, professional development opportunities and a national network to empower the Tillman Scholar community since 2008. These scholars are making a difference in the fields of healthcare, business, public service, STEM, education and the humanities.
"Everything we do is modeled after Tillman's legacy," said Abdnour. 
"Our purpose is to award remarkable military veterans and military spouses who are just making a huge impact," she continued. 
Almost 17 years since the loss of beloved number 42, the Pat Tillman Foundation has impacted millions and continues to empower the next generation of leaders. In 2020, they welcomed another class of Tillman Scholars, and expanded the network to nearly 700 leaders nationwide. Every year, 60 scholarships are awarded to those on active duty, veterans or spouses.
"We currently have over 700 scholars just over the past 17 years, and when I read about these people, I'm in awe because they do such incredible work," said Abdnour. 
As the next generation of private and public sector leaders, the Tillman Scholars are tackling challenges across national security, healthcare, technology, civil rights, education and more. Just as Tillman believed and lived his life, the Tillman Scholars believe their best years of service to our country are still ahead of them, and they are committed to strengthening communities at home and around the world.
"As a foundation, we try to appeal to all generations who use our platforms to really continue keeping Tillman's story alive, as well as the foundation itself," said Abdnour.

Another way that the Pat Tillman Foundation honors number 42 is through Pat's Run, the signature fundraiser that directly supports the Foundation's Tillman Scholars program  and is a partnership with the City of Tempe and Arizona State University. This year, Pat's Run will be held virtually on April 24, 2021, to prioritize the health and safety of the runners, volunteers and the community that continues to support education and leadership development for Tillman Scholars.
Demonstrating perseverance, just like Tillman, the Pat Tillman Foundation intends to defy all obstacles and continue forward with the race remotely. Despite the last-minute decision to go virtual for the 2020 Pat's Run, the race was a success; therefore, the 2021 17th Annual Pat's Run will be virtual again this year, but with more preparation, time and improvements. 
"We wanted to create a virtual experience that was a little bit more broad and more community based," said Henry Terrazas, the events manager for the Pat Tillman Foundation. 
When the time comes, and the race is back in-person, the foundation is intending on keeping all improvements for virtual runners.

"We want to maintain that experience for our virtual runners going forward," said Terrazas.

It is through the hands of many that the Pat Tillman foundation is able to honor the memory of such an amazing person and role model. 
"To be someone who has made such an impact to where 17 years later, they're still talking about you? That's incredible and I'm so proud to be a part of such an amazing impact," said Abdnour. 
"We're very proud to celebrate the people who are following in his footsteps," she said.
The Pat Tillman Foundation continues to thrive and excel, but more importantly it motivates and inspires all who are involved and choose to there is only one mission: To serve. While Tillman remains in the hearts of many across the world, the foundation honors his character and represents his passion every day through the next generations of leaders who will embody his spirit for years to come. 

"To err on the side of passion is human and right and the only way I'll live." - Pat Tillman

Peyton Clark is a senior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism who will graduate in the spring of 2021. Originally from Charlottesville, Virginia and moved to Arizona in July of 2016! She has interned at AZ Big Media and Big Times Media Group in her Sun Devil undergraduate career.