Pat Tillman's friends kept getting told they'd never pull off a successful charity run to honor the former Arizona Cardinal who died nearly a year ago while fighting in Afghanistan.
Officials won't cooperate, the skeptics said, and nobody will run.
But when word of Pat's Run got out, nearly 4,000 runners signed up from 37 states. Organizers expect last-minute entries for Saturday's event will push the number of participants to 5,000.
"A large part of that is Pat," said Alex Garwood, executive director of the Pat Tillman Foundation and the player's brother-in-law. "People are coming out to support Pat."
The event's success shows how Tillman's relentless drive created an almost cultlike following in the Valley and across the nation, said Frank Ugenti, a Tillman friend who helped organize the run. Tillman inspired others by always pushing himself mentally, physically or spiritually, Ugenti said.
"There are so many people who were touched by who he was and what he did, who didn't know him on a personal level," he said. "The way he lived his life was such an inspiration."
Tillman died April 22, 2004, having given up a lucrative Cardinals contract to serve in the U.S. Army. Pat's Run was designed to carry on Tillman's way of pushing himself by getting people to do the same, organizers said. But at 4.2 miles and a walk of the same distance, it allows nearly everybody to participate.
The idea of setting a goal got 42 people to sign up from Kyrene del Sureño Elementary School in Chandler. Kindergarten teacher and Tillman friend Gina Bertocchi said she was inspired because of how Tillman encouraged students to push themselves during his visits to the school. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The event finishes on the 42-yard line of Frank Kush Field. Tillman wore No. 42 at ASU.