Illini Veterans seeks to break donation record for annual 5K

Over the past seven years, a total of $52,000 has been raised for the Illini Veterans Memorial 5K. As this years race approaches, Illini Veterans president Matthew Cutright hopes to break the annual fundraising record.

Cutright said usually around $10,000 is raised per race and hopes at least $12,000 can be raised this year.

The race will take place April 7, with the opening ceremony being held at Foellinger Auditorium at 10 a.m. 

The Illini Veterans donate the proceeds of every 5K to the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education on campus. The money raised goes toward programs and equipment for student veterans.

Cutright said the funds help the center pay for educational, leadership and career opportunities as well as new installments, such as the gym installed last year.

Opened in fall 2015, the center provides residential and non-residential support services to “empower military-connected students to realize their potential through a world-class education experience,” according to the center’s website.

Cutright said getting involved in this race is a way for people to give back to military-connected students.

“These students have done so much for our country, and I believe that this 5K is a way to show our thanks to them and help them while they are starting the next part of their journey at the University of Illinois,” Cutright said.

A few improvements have been made to race this year including electronic chips in racing bibs and a new finish line, Cutright said. The guest speaker will also now speak before the race rather than after. 

Jake Zweig, former Navy SEAL and current special teams analyst for the University, will be this year’s guest speaker.

“I would make the argument that we probably have one of the best (veteran) centers on a collegiate campus in the country,” Zweig said. “There’s a very warm and inclusive environment for our vets to come and get away from campus life.”

As a regular attendee of the race, Zweig said the event connects his passions for running and raising awareness for veteran issues.

“Running has always been really important to me and has served me very well in my lifetime,” Zweig said. “I ran about three miles a day pretty much every day of high school, and it helped me make the transition from being just an average athlete to a very good athlete.”

Zweig hopes the event reminds participants to remember veterans’ services and how the military contributes to the American way of life.

“Our freedom is at the backbone of every one of these individuals,” Zweig said. “Some of them are guys who are disabled from combat, and that’s the price we pay as Americans, to be able to go to the YMCA, to go to the grocery store, just to be free in our own country.”

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