ROSCOE — Can you imagine marching 20 miles with a 35-pound pack on your back?
According to Excel Academy Fitness Instructor Chris Gusner, soldiers do it once a year or more.
Gunser just returned from spending eight years in the U.S. Army, and his own personal experiences helped inspire Excel Boot Camp's 9/11 Memorial Road March. Gusner planned the memorial event with fellow fitness instructor Bennie Gonzales to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The 9/11 Memorial Road March will begin around 1 p.m. on Friday at Excel Academy, 11361 Main St., Roscoe.
Gusner said two of his friends were hit by shrapnel in Afghanistan, and only one survived.
"His name is Josh Sommers. I haven't seen him since 2010," said Gusner. "He will be at the event, and he is going to walk the last mile with us."
Sommers was formerly a specialist in the Army. Sgt. Jimmy Robinson was killed during the attack. Robinson's family will be at the event.
Gusner said although Sommers was disabled by the accident, he was lucky to be alive after the attack in 2010.
According to Gusner, Boot Camp Fitness has been planning runs and walks over the last year. Sometime around the Fourth of July, he knew he wanted to start training for a 20-mile march.
"Anyone can come and march to show support," Gusner said. "Right now we have about 15 to 20 walkers."
Gusner said many of the walkers are students at Excel Academy, recruiters in the area and members of the National Guard. The 20-mile course will lead the group from Roscoe to Rockton and back to Excel Academy. There will be a reception afterwards, and Gusner said friends and family of survivors will be present.
Another 9/11 event to be held Friday will be in Rockford at the Winnebago County 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial, 650 W. State St. The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and police officers and firefighters from throughout the county will attend the dedication of the World Trade Center Steel, which will be part of the memorial. The memorial is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 11, 2016. Board President Will Pederson said his intent is to spotlight first responders who were killed or injured during 9/11.
"(A total of) 414 first responders were killed during 9/11, along with 3,000 civilians," said Pederson. "I'm a firefighter myself. We can never forget how many lives were lost."
Pederson said 9/11 was the first time the public saw how quickly and thoroughly first responders react to a situation of that magnitude.
"One number that's quickly forgotten is the 10,000 people that were rescued. These rescues were made by first responders at the towers and the Pentagon," Pederson said.
He drove to collect the steel beams in a flatbed truck in 2011. Pederson said he is excited to put the beams in their final resting place. The next addition to the memorial will be three bronze statues: a firefighter, a police officer and a medic.
There also will be a 9/11 remembrance during the Festival on the Rock celebration at Preservation Park in the Town of Beloit Friday.