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Near-fatal accident leads to 5K

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

On Aug. 18, 2017 Roanoke resident TJ Unger was involved in an accident on Highway 24 that nearly took his life. But because of the work of Roanoke firefighters and EMTs, today he is alive and beating the odds. Now, he’s working to express his gratitude for the ones who saved him.

Unger said within three minutes after the accident, volunteer firemen and EMTs were at the scene and working to help save his life. As a result of the accident, the majority of his bones from the waist down broke, causing doctors and specialists to think he would never walk again.

They decided on a loose date of when he would be able to walk again without assistance – if at all. Unger, however, had a different timeline in mind.

“They set a loose date of maybe 12 months to when I’d be able to walk without assist, and I set a goal months ago to try to run a 5K before that one year was up,” he said.

The more he thought about it though, the more he decided he didn’t want it to be about him or a challenge just for himself. Instead, he wanted to be able to show appreciation for the volunteers that saved his life.

“Some way to give back and show my appreciation is the absolute least thing that I could do,” he said. “So looking around at other 5Ks I was like, I think we could do this in Roanoke and set something up and support the volunteer firemen and EMTs and everybody that are right around here.”

That’s what sparked the idea for God Speed 5K, which will take place on Aug. 18 – exactly one year after the accident – beginning at 8 a.m. at Roanoke Park.

For Unger, the name of the 5K itself even has a special meaning. He explained that while he was in the hospital, thousands of people reached out to him in support and a common theme he heard from them was “Godspeed.”

“I knew historically “Godspeed’ is like ‘see you later,’ but through this whole event I learned that it’s more about “in God’s timing,’” he said. “So the recovery and everything, literally I’ve given it up to in God’s timing.”

When he was thinking about having a 5K, Unger said he was a little on the fence and couldn’t decide if he wanted to do it, especially since he wasn’t sure he’d be able to actually participate.

But when the idea of calling the race “God Speed” came to mind, he knew he had to follow through for a bigger purpose.

“One day I thought about naming it, and I thought you know what, ‘God Speed’ is pretty awesome. Plus if I can spread a little bit of faith and at the same time some appreciation, that means more to me than if I’m able to walk it or not or run it or not,” he said.

Registration is $25 and begins at 7 a.m. All proceeds raised from the 5K will go to benefit the first responders who saved Unger’s life. As of Tuesday, Unger said he had 53 signed up and registered.

There will be a celebration following the run/walk with food, drinks and music.

Those interested can visit “God Speed 5k Walk/Run” on Facebook or tjunger.wixsite.com/godspeed.

Unger said he wants to get the word out about these volunteers to the community because they are heros not everybody gets to interact with on a regular basis.

“It’s unbelievable for me to think that number one, they do this every single day, and number two, a lot of them are volunteers. Which is just absolutely remarkable. So just a tiny, tiny thing that I can do to give back and show my appreciation.”