In continuing the #nevergiveupneverquit series, we are honored to highlight Legacies Alive and Mike’s Hiking for Heroes. This is the story of one man’s dream to honor fallen heroes lost since 9/11, and how his dream has quickly emerged as a connecting point for Gold Star families across the country grieving the loss of their loved ones.
Organization’s Purpose: The purpose and vision of Legacies Alive is to strengthen and support every Family of the Fallen and bring national awareness to the life and character of each service member who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Their mission is to provide unwavering support to Families of the Fallen by ensuring the Legacies of our Fallen Heroes are forever alive. Their current project, Mike’s Hiking for Heroes (MHFH), raises awareness for Fallen Heroes and funds to build memorials in the hometowns of those servicemen and women killed in action since September 11, 2001.
To do this, Mike Viti is walking nearly 7,000 km across the United States: that’s 1km for each of the 6,826 killed in action. Along the way, MHFH is connecting with Gold Star Families (the families of Fallen Heroes) and showering them with love and support.
How it started: West Point classmates and Army Football teammates Mike Viti and Mark Faldowski first met in 2005. They became close over the next four years, and both went on to serve for several years in the US Army; both spent time in combat, experiencing the loss of classmates, their soldiers, and their friends. Mike and Mark stayed in touch after West Point, talking often as each went through the normal trials of being a young officer in an Army at war.
Their relationship reached a new level in February of 2014, when Mark got a call from Mike with an odd request. Mike asked if he could call Mark later that night to talk about something. “You don’t have to schedule a call with me – just call!” Mark remembers thinking. Later that night, Mike called back – this time with his wife Laura on the line. Mike expressed his desire to show support for families of veterans killed in action and to pay tribute to the men and women killed in the GWOT. With Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines dying regularly, Mike felt that he had the physical ability to do something extreme to show his gratitude. Then Mike revealed his plan.
A “Crazy” idea: “What if I walked 1km for every service-member killed since 9/11,” he asked Mark.
Mark responded as any friend would: “I think you’re crazy, Mike. But if you’re serious, lets talk it through.”
That next week Mike flew from Las Vegas to Seattle (where Mark was stationed) to discuss his plans. For the next four days of President’s Day weekend, Mike threw idea after idea at Mark. Mark kept explaining to him why each one would not work or needed significant planning to pull off. Finally, after a day full of back and forth, Mike laid it all on the line.
“I’m doing this. I don’t care how it happens – I’m doing it.”
“Then I’m doing it with you,” Mark replied, without missing a beat.
With the decisions to walk already made, the idea of what they could accomplish grew. What started as one man walking to satisfy a burning internal desire to honor the sacrifices of his Nation’s heroes became a national non-profit designed to raise awareness and funds for a noble cause.
Less than two months later, Mike left his job to focus on the hike full time. Mike stepped off on a 7,100 km journey, taking him from DuPont, Washington to Southern California, through Texas and Atlanta. He will finish at the 115thArmy vs Navy Football game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on December 13th. Throughout it all, Mark has been beside him, helping to coordinate events along the way and manage the strategic direction of their organization.
The Team: Others have joined the team since those early days. Mike’s wife, Laura Viti, handles the administrative and financial support for the project, while fellow West Pointers Matt Hernandez and Charles McDonald donate their time as the Directors of Outreach and Memorial Projects, respectively. Alex Larson serves as the Director of Operations. It was during a phone call with Mark that Alex – awaiting the start of Physicians Assistant schooling – learned about the event. Alex, after learning about the cause, also felt the desire to join the effort.
Interacting with Gold Star Families Once underway, the walk became more than a simple physical exercise. The team began to meet with Gold Star Families in the various towns and cities they passed through. Some were hesitant – not wanting to surface the painful scars of lost spouses, parents, and children. Others welcome the MHFH Team with open arms – a cooler full of beer in the front yard to honor their lost loved ones in a way only those who have served could understand. Mark remembers a specific moment when he realized the magnitude and potential of what they were doing. The team had met spent the night with one Gold Star Family, and met another at an event the next day.
The second Gold Star Family mentioned Mark: “There is another family in town, but they probably don’t want to talk to you guys.”
“I told him that we had just spent the night at their house, and had a great time,” Mark recalls. “You guys should link up. They are more than willing to talk with you if you’d like.”
Contact info was exchanged and the team moved on. A few weeks later, Mark received a call from the second family.
“We are so glad you connected us. Our kids are friends, and we can talk about the children we’ve lost with someone who understands. Thank you.”
“That’s when I knew,” says Mark. “That’s when I knew that this walk – this hike…there was more to come. This was a calling, a single project in a larger mission.”
Legacies Alive: Over the first few months of the hike, Mark and Mike decided this was what they were meant to do: a full time calling to support the families of fallen heroes and help keep their legacies alive. Thus, Legacies Alive was created. There will be more projects, more support initiatives, and more events bringing awareness to Fallen Heroes.
“We figured, if someone wants to do something extreme, and gets a wild idea in their head to climb Mt Everest or swim the Atlantic, let’s support them,” says Mike. “And lets use that attention and ambition to support a worthy cause.”
You can see the progress from the first 121 days here:
Follow the Journey: Mike’s Hiking for Heroes reaches the Dallas-Fort Worth area today, September 9, 2014. After a day of rest, Mike will walk for 24-hours straight on September 11 – 68.26 miles in all for the 6,826 men and women lost. His trek will begin, appropriately, at the home of America’s Team: AT&T “Cowboy’s” Stadium in Arlington. After a lap around the stadium, Mike will walk into Downtown Dallas and onto Katy Trail. He will then walk from Reverchon Park to SMU and back an approximately 9 mile loop for the remainder of the day. Mike will recover on Friday, September 12, before continuing his hike toward Atlanta and, ultimately, Baltimore. After the hike is complete, Legacies Alive will launch its next campaign dedicated to keeping the Legacies of our Fallen Heroes Alive. Stay tuned!
Make an impact today! To donate, please visit www.mikeshikingforheroes.com and click on “Get Involved” and “Donate.” You can also view a message from Mark, purchase apparel, and keep up with the hike.
To participate in Mike’s Hike through Dallas on 9/11, join the team at the midnight kick-off at AT&T Stadium, or meet up with Mike at Katy Trail Icehouse at 8am, 12pm, 2pm, 7pm, and 10pm.
For more information on how you can get involved in Dallas on September 11, please contact Dallas Ambassador Clay Hendon at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on where Mike will be next, please visit the website and use the “Contact Us” link, or follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!
Connect on Social Media
Facebook page: Mike’s Hiking for Heroes