Two MH businessmen organize inaugural run

Published in the Oct. 14-27, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Paul Rakitin

Paul Rakitin

U.S. Army veterans Paul Rakitin and Charles Weston love to run. Rakitin owns The Running Shop in Morgan Hill and Weston organizes the Freedom Fest’s annual Independence Day Run. So it was the perfect pairing for them to create the inaugural Morgan Hill Veterans Day Run taking place Sunday Nov. 8.

Morgan Hill Life asked Rakitin about the run and its mission to raise money for organizations that help men and women who served in the military.

The Morgan Hill Veterans Day Run will have its first event this year. Why did you and Weston decide to put this event on to honor veterans?

When I got back from Afghanistan and parted ways with the people I had once worked with, I felt disconnected to the everyday life I was now a part of. There are programs and organizations with the mission to show veterans they’re not alone in their struggles and they do have a community that appreciates their service. We’re trying to give more exposure to these local veterans’ organizations and in doing so, show all veterans they have support and their sacrifice is not forgotten or in vein. I feel it’s my duty to do my part to continue to give back to service members. With the Veterans Day Run, we can show our gratitude. Some returning vets have nowhere to turn when coming home.

Part of the proceeds will go to Operation Freedom Paws. Why did you select this South Valley group that helps veterans with emotional and physical issues by partnering them with dogs?

Healing comes in different ways and not all vets are comfortable with the standard methods of support the Department of Veterans Affairs offers, leaving some with no options to begin the crucial readjustment period. Operation Freedom Paws offers an unconventional way to reconnect vets with their communities. Veterans experiencing post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries have a much harder time handling normal day-to-day life. Operation Freedom Paws gives veterans a positive outlet and opportunity to move forward in life with a clear purpose.

Another partner is Operation Care and Comfort. Why did you select this group?

At times, there’s nothing better than opening a package from half way around the world, finding a letter written by someone you’ve never met saying thank you for what you’re doing. The best letters and drawings came from elementary schools showing their appreciation. Opening a package with cookies or a book was like Christmas and it really made you appreciate the simple things in life. Some of us didn’t have spouses or loved ones sending care packages, which during the holiday season was even more difficult for some.

What other groups do you have selected to help through the run and why did you choose them?

We’ve also partnered up with Team Red, White and Blue, The Mission Continues and The Muddy Patriot. We’ve teamed up with these organizations because each group offers something very special that assists veterans and their families and shows them they have people who understand their story. The number of veterans who never seek help even with the numerous resources offered is shocking. Some have no idea where they can go besides the VA to seek help or just talk. Not everyone needs medical attention. Some are just looking for social contact with people who have similar experiences and can understand what they are going through.


Describe your Veterans Day Run and what might make it special.

The run starts at the Morgan Hill Plaza shopping center and The Running Shop. This year we are running an out-and-back 5K route heading south on the Little Llagas Creek Trail, with the turnaround point at Paradise Park and finishing at The Running Shop. We are asking local families of service members to help us create poster-board-size tribute signs that will be placed at points along the course. These salutes are there to encourage and remind runners why we are doing this. So many races are for profit businesses and give very little if anything at all back to the community.

You were an Army medic in Afghanistan during the war there. How does that experience help you understand the special challenges experienced by American vets and encourage you to help them through this run?

I was fortunate to have a wife who understood it was going to take time to re-adjust. We had moved into a new place a week prior to me heading to Afghanistan for another six months and we had a 2-year-old and a newborn. She actually had a harder job, being alone with two small children. When I got home I had no idea where anything was in the house, I felt like a stranger visiting and for a while felt helpless around the house. My wife made sticky notes and placed them around the house so I didn’t spend 10 minutes looking for something if she wasn’t there. It was the simple things I found to be the most difficult. It would have been amazing to talk and laugh with other guys about their experiences coming home. I had no idea there were groups like Team Red, White and Blue or The Mission Continues that offered the chance to socialize with others who knew how I felt. These organizations need more exposure to let all vets know what they offer and how they can continue to give back to their communities in a different capacity.