Shortly after 5 p.m. last Thursday, Old Glory came into view, resting on Genevieve Urquidi’s left shoulder as she jogged along Erwin Street into a setting sun and cooling breeze.
The Old Glory Relay, a 4,216 mile journey of an American Flag had reached The Village At Westfield Topanga, its destination for the day.
The annual run is organized by Team Red, White & Blue, a non-profit organization that helps veterans make the transition from military to civilian life.
The team of 18 runners had left Westfield Shopping Town in Valencia around 9 a.m. for the approximate 25 mile trek.
The RWB members, as the group calls itself, jogged into the Village to a rousing greeting. About 100 people, waving small American flags and clanging cowbells, cheered on Urquidi and some of her team members as they made their way to the center of the mall.
There are about 62 teams involved in this year’s flag relay, which began on Sept. 11, Patriot Day, at the Space Needle in Seattle. It is scheduled to end Nov. 11, Veterans Day, in Tampa, where the group is headquartered.
The six-year-old group raises money through individual donations, grants, corporate gifts and special events, said Brandon Young, RWB’s Director of Development.
RWB has about 113,000 members and chapters in 200 cities, according to Blayne Smith, the groups executive director.
The group’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity, he said.
“One of the best ways to reduce stress is through physical activity,” said Smith, a West Point graduate who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the chapters have running clubs or yoga classes. They also pay entry fees to physical competitions like 5K and 10K runs.
It is important to have veterans mingling with non-veterans to ease their transition into civilian life and not stay “arms length” from each other, he said.
“It’s a way for veterans to meet one another and members of the community and it can make for a stronger community,” he said.
Non-veterans who join RWB can benefit from the kind of help the organization offers as well.
Urquidi, 38, of Alhambra, is a good example.
“I went through some tough life changes in recent years. I went through a divorce and shared custody gave me a lot of time for loneliness,” she said.
She started running and joined RWB three years ago. Life is better now, she explained.
“I wanted to get a sense of giving back to the community. I wanted to give more of myself to a bigger cause,” she said.
And carrying Old Glory on Thursday had special meaning.
“I felt a sense of honor and pride. It made me feel good to be an American,” said Urquidi.