GUNNISON—For the third year in a row, a lifelong Gunnison City resident plans to honor and support the heroes he looks up to by organizing a fundraising event that celebrates the service of veterans, law enforcement and first responders.
Gunnison City Councilman Justen Mellor has been hard at work preparing for the 2020 United We March Gunnison Gut Check, a two-day event taking place on Sept. 11-12. In The months and weeks leading up to the event, Mellor can be seen hiking around the Gunnison Valley with a heavy, military style pack on his back, from which an American flag flies waving in the wind as he marches.
The timing of the Gut Check is no coincidence. It is scheduled near one of the most historic and infamous days in U.S. history—9/11. The role of law enforcement, first-responders and military during that fateful day in 2011 cannot be emphasized enough, says Mellor, and that is why the Gut Check lands on the closest weekend to Sept. 11 each year it has been held.
Although the idea of the event was born after Mellor attended a different march event in 2017, his desire to give back to the military and first-response community goes back much further than that.
When Mellor was 14, he was introduced to a man who had hiked an agonizing 600 miles as a fellow prisoner of war with Mellor’s own grandfather. Mellor says the brotherhood shared between the two World War II veterans was a powerful message to him.
“He told me my grandpa was his hero,” Mellor says. “These two men cared more for each other than anything I had even seen in my life.”
Although Mellor was unable to serve in the military as a young man due to medical limitations, he found himself drawn to the brotherhood and purpose he saw in those that served the country. He wanted to be surrounded by these kinds of individuals, who were willing to risk their lives in defense of the nation and its people.
Mellor’s admiration for those who serve inspired the idea for the Gut Check after he participated in the Bataan Death Memorial March in New Mexico in 2017. Since its inception, the Gunnison Gut Check has been evolving each year. This year, Mellor plans for the event to be better than ever.
This year, the event is divided across two days. On Friday, Sept. 11 at Gunnison City Park, the event kicks off with dinner at 6 p.m. A motivational speech by Cpl. Matthew Bradford of “No Legs, No Vision, No Problem” will take place as well. Finally, an auction will be held where items donated by businesses and sponsors will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to support nonprofits that help veterans and first-responders.
Saturday, Sept. 12 is the biggest day of the event, and it kicks off early, at 6 a.m. with a procession of “Big Betsy,” a quarter-acre American flag (one of the biggest in the nation).
After the flag procession, participants honor veterans, law enforcement and first responders before they head off on the main event, a march, or “ruck race,” carrying weighted packs across rough terrain. There is a 26-mile full ruck march, a 16-mile half-ruck, and more mellow 5k walk in-town. Participants in the race can register as individuals or as a team.
The heavy packs hold some symbolism from military training that requires a 35-lb pack over the 26-mile march.
“It kind of puts you in their [servicemembers] boots for a minute to give you some respect for it,” Mellor says.
The purpose of the Gunnison Gut Check is important to Mellor for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is to extend support to the men and women who serve the country in these capacities.
“People always call them heroes, and they are, but that almost makes it sound like they’re invincible,” Mellor says. “They just humans too, and they need our support.”
All proceeds from the Gut Check go to benefit the heroes who serve our country—specifically these organizations: The UVU Veteran Success Center, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, the Utah 1033 Foundation, and the Acel Thompson Not Forgotten Fund.
For all the information, visit https://unitedwemarch.itsyourrace.com/.