A record number of competitors took part in Sunday morning's Long Island Run for the Warrior race in Lindenhurst, honoring deployed soldiers and wounded military service members.
"It's for everybody who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It's the least we can do," said Sgt. Ronald Hurtado, 32, of Staten Island, who spent 2007 conducting combat patrol in Afghanistan and ran the 5k race in his military uniform. Now an Army active duty recruiter in Patchogue, Hurtado said the race is an important way to encourage troops.
While last year's run drew about 2,000 runners, this year brought out more than 3,000, said Tina Atherall, executive vice president of the national nonprofit Hope for the Warriors, which hosted the races.
"People need this run and they needed a voice," Atherall said. "It's a great weekend to support the military."
She attributed the increased number of participants to the community "embracing veterans."
Military mom Aurora Matos, 46, of Babylon, who is counting the days until January when her Army son comes home from serving in Afghanistan, attended for the first time.
"It's very important to support them. They give us freedom and are real heroes," she said.
Another mother, Paula Vidal, whose son served three Army tours overseas before returning from Afghanistan in August, said she was there to pay homage to veterans.
"I'm here to make people aware of the sacrifices they commit every day. They allow us to afford our freedom," said Vidal, 58, of Lindenhurst, who watched from a nearby sidewalk. "This race becomes more important each year."
The race, in its sixth year, began at Babylon Town Hall with three events -- a mile, 5k or 10k runs.
More than 300 people volunteered to help with the event, organizers said.
Hope for the Warriors raised more than $200,000 Sunday, with all proceeds benefiting wounded service members, their families and families of the fallen, officials said.
The organization also aims to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members suffering from physical and psychological issues.
Before the event, Marine Lance Cpl. Billy Ventura, 22, of Holtsville, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a hit-and-run accident in July in Selden, was honored for his military service. Later, he rode a donated hand cycle.
Ventura had run the race twice in honor of his brother, Marine Cpl. Jerome Ventura, 23, who died two years ago after suffering a reaction to medication while being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder at Marine Air Station Miramar, in San Diego. But the small custom-made bike allowed him to complete the race Sunday.
Being recognized felt "amazing," Ventura said after crossing the finish line.