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Tony Moreno, of Davenport, is shown in front of a mural in Runners Park, East Moline. As a National Guardsman and an Air Force veteran, today's Freedom Run holds a special place in the heart of Moreno, who also is a race sponsor.

EAST MOLINE—The Freedom Run 5K holds a special place in the heart of Tony Moreno.

In addition to the race being directed by his father, Joe, Tony served five years of active duty in the Air Force before serving the last 16 years with the 182d Airlift Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard in Peoria.

Tony is also a Doctor of Chiropractic and owns Frontline Spine and Sport, which serves as a race sponsor with the Freedom Run 5K, the Genesis Firecracker Run, and the Quad Cities Marathon. Located on 15th Avenue right next to the QC Marathon Building, the local race is right outside the front door of Frontline’s East Moline office.

As a lifelong runner and veteran, the 39-year-old Moreno knows firsthand the significance of a local race supporting local veterans through local charities. Proceeds of the Freedom Run go to nearby chapters at the USO (United Service Organizations) and the AUSA (Association of the United States Army).

“It’s really surreal to know that on (Thursday) afternoon, there’s this military theme right downtown in front of my clinic,” Moreno said. “It’s very near and dear. Knowing that it supports your average veterans that typically wouldn’t come out to a running event. But they come out just to partake and be a part of it. Because it’s for them, and the people that followed them.”

Tony said the race is also a way for his father to continue to support veterans and servicemen and women. With seven of Joe’s four kids and their spouses having served in the military, Tony said his father knows how parents and their support can be the “backbone” of servicemembers.

Tony recalled telling his father a story on the way to a running event after returning home from his last deployment to Afghanistan.

“I told him how having had the active duty experience, when I joined the guard as a citizen soldier, when you are in a deployed environment; I’m in a combat career field. So your worry is the men to the left and to the right and getting home safe,” Tony said.

But for other service members, Tony said the everyday challenges can be much different. He overheard a phone conversation of a couple struggling to be able to afford fixing their water heater.

“Here is this soldier, who is a guardsman, who leaves his family, he’s serving his country and I’m relying on him,” Tony said, “but yet his mind is financially with his wife who’s back home and there’s a water heater break.

“The next thing I knew, my dad told me after he started the Freedom Run, he said that was the catalyst where he realized he wanted the money to stay locally.”

The connection between veterans and active military and runners and non-runners makes the Freedom Run very different than the other local races. A shared love for their country and the sacrifice of others is something Moreno says puts the race’s experience over the top.

“When to the left and right of you are people, and you know the reason and cause is to support the people that have served our nation, it is superior to all in my opinion,” Moreno said. “I know there’s many races across the country that do this, but it is a different feel than any other place.

“While you’re waiting for the gun to go off, you see people pulling out their old Marine Corps T-shirts and hats and they’re proud they’ve served. Even if it’s been 20 or 30 years ago, they get a day where they get to feel proud again. That’s what our country is built on. That’s what keeps us going and having the young people replace the old. It’s a really neat thing to be a part of.”

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Reporter

Drake is a part-time sports reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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