BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The gray sky and an occasional pelting from a cold rain didn’t slow down Travis Swaim and Brandon Asberry as they biked their way up Byron Center Avenue on their way to Grandville Wednesday afternoon.
They were on a mission.
“It can be miserable at times out here. You’re not always having the best time. But you kind of step back and remember why you’re out here,” Swaim said.
“It always comes back to why you’re here. You never forget why you’re here,” Asberry added.
That “why” is to honor the sacrifices made by military members and first responders.
“I can’t describe enough the sense of pride it gives you to be able to put yourself, your life on hold, to be here for a greater cause,” Asberry, a firefighter from Dallas, said.
He and Swaim, a teacher from Arizona, are part of Carry the Load. Founded by two U.S. Navy Seals in 2011, Carry the Load’s mission is to remind the public of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is not just a day for barbecues and being off work. There’s greater meaning behind that,” Asberry said.
Carry The Load started out as a 20 hour, 11 minute Memorial March in Dallas. In 2012, it expanded to include an East Coast relay. This year, they added a Midwest leg. Volunteers take to the streets on bike and by foot with their message. Leg captains walk in 5 mile increments carrying the American flag to bring awareness to the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes.
National cemeteries are among the local stops.
“Meeting Gold Star families, talking to them, seeing how fresh — no matter how long ago — how fresh the deaths of their loved one is still on their minds. It changes the purpose,” Asberry said.
The Midwest route, which made its way through West Michigan Wednesday, began in Minneapolis and will end in Dallas, where participants will meet up with East Coast routes, on Memorial Day. When all is said and done, Midwest volunteers will have covered 3,900 miles in 32 days.
Some days are easier than others for the volunteers but every day ends the same: as a humbling experience.
“Really just to honor the sacrifices of the men and woman that, on a daily basis, let me live the life I wanted to live,” Swaim said.
Tuesday’s portion of the relay began in Portage, made its way north through Kalamazoo and then on to Kent County with stops in Grandville and Walker.
The group was scheduled to arrive at the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s Bridge Street Fire house at 6 p.m. From there, they would head east on a route that takes them past the D&W store at Breton Road and Burton Street in East Grand Rapids at 9 p.m. They will then continue to Cascade Township and were set to arrive at the fire station on Thornhills Avenue south of 28th Street at 11 p.m.