On Friday, April 8th, Truett McConnell University (TMU) held its first 5k walk/run event to raise money for K9s For Warriors, a charity which pairs military veterans with rescue-turned-service-dogs in a program that heals two lives. Despite the chilly spring weather, over 80 participants completed the route and 90 total donors helped raise $7,500 toward the cause.

A Worthy Cause

Jeremiah Lukers, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at TMU, helped the university partner with K9s For Warriors, a charity which provides a unique way to help veterans who suffer from PTSD, brain injuries, and sexual trauma. This organization rescues dogs from shelters, trains them as service dogs, and pairs them with veterans to form a relationship that saves two lives. Their program has proven successful in helping veterans reduce suicide ideation while simultaneously saving the lives of 1,300 rescue dogs.

One Veteran’s Story

Eli Patterson, a veteran who completed the K9s For Warriors program, attended the event with his beloved service dog, Soz. While Patterson was serving as a Field Artillery NCO in Afghanistan, he sustained a life-changing injury that made it impossible for him to walk, talk or move his limbs. The veteran almost took his own life Thanksgiving Day of 2019.

Patterson’s service dog, Soz, accompanies him to the 5k.

In a conversation before the event, Patterson said, “Getting Soz changed everything in my life. Things got better in ways I didn’t anticipate.” Today, Patterson’s service dog makes it possible for him to walk without a cane and to feel safe while interacting with others. “The emotional stuff that I’m not good at, she helps with. My marriage got better, and I go to my kids’ games more often,” Patterson added.

Not only has Soz saved Patterson’s life by aiding his mental health, but she has also saved his life during medical emergencies. Patterson shared that once, when he passed out during a vertigo episode, Soz stopped him from falling down the stairs and kept his airway open long enough for someone to find him.

A Community Coming Together

Local sponsors show support for K9s For Warriors

Before the start of the 5k, Patterson greeted participants and thanked sponsors from the community which included Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, Fieldale, Ingles, Gun Commanders in Cleveland, Georgia, and A to Zinc in Clarkesville, Georgia.

Patterson told participants, “Soz gave me the opportunity to go somewhere and do something with my life. She helped me become an advocate for other veterans instead of feeling like I always had to be a victim.”

Owen Nobles, a senior Exercise Science major at TMU and volunteer at the event said, “After hearing Eli Patterson’s story about how Soz saved his life, it really made every bit of work worth it, if there was any chance another life could benefit from this organization. It was amazing to have so many people from the community as well as our university participate and donate to raise money for this cause.”

Phillip Braswell won first place in the men’s category and Elle Sims finished first in the women’s category.

A Way to Serve Christ

Emir Caner, President of TMU, showed his support of veterans by participating in the walk/ run event. In his remarks before the start of the race he said, “The purpose of TMU is to share Jesus and to serve Jesus and the way that we serve Christ is to serve others.” Caner also thanked Professor Lukers, who organized the event.

Lukers said about the event, “I would like to thank my students, co-workers, and local community for helping make the event a success. I am thankful for the time Eli Patterson sacrificed to come and speak at our event and raise awareness for our military veterans and canine friends. I felt blessed to be a part of this wonderful cause.”

In his final words to the crowd before the race, Patterson said, “Today, when you run, remember that what you are doing means something. K9s For Warriors is grateful.”


Anna Skudarnova is a senior English major and content writer for the TMU Marketing and Communications Department.

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