Running For a Paws

San diego beach & bay 2

Two beloved San Diego institutions are coming together to help wounded warriors re-enter the game of life. On April 14, 2024, San Diego Beach & Bay Half Marathon will celebrate its eighth year as the city’s most iconic running event – and its second year honoring Freedom Dogs as its official charity partner.


Freedom Dogs is a San Diego-based nonprofit, founded nearly 20 years ago by critical care nurse Beth Russell, who witnessed the traumatizing effects of war on our military heroes – and decided that service dogs were just what the doctor ordered. Starting at 8 weeks of age, the pups undergo a two-year training process, learning skills customized to the needs of the wounded warrior they will be paired with. Once the dog and its trainer are introduced to their military hero, they work together both in a classroom and walking through everyday life situations, offering a reassuring paw to their person as he or she reenters society. In addition to helping with specific needs, such as opening a door or turning off a light, the dogs provide a constant dose of their signature remedy of loyalty, comfort, and love. “The change in our participants after working with our dogs is incredible,” shares Russell. “There is a look of hope on their faces and a smile that shows they are willing to give life and the world a second chance.”

In recent years, as word spreads of the positive effect the dogs have on people suffering from brain injuries and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), the demand for trained dogs has outpaced what Freedom Dogs is able to provide, and the list of heroes waiting for these specialty service dogs just keeps growing – which is why fundraising is so crucial to the cause. San Diego Beach & Bay Half Marathon is the second largest fundraising event for Freedom Dogs (second only to the Freedom Dogs Golf Tournament, now in its eleventh year!). In addition to yearly cash donations, the race, with over five thousand participants and seven thousand total attendees, also plays a big role in helping to spread awareness.

The coastal run, which also includes 5K and 10K options, starts at Tecolote Park and winds along and around Mission Beach and Bay. This year the quintessential San Diego running event has added a “Final Miles,” featuring live music every half mile for the last six miles to encourage runners as they push through the most challenging part of the race. The race will sell out for the third year in a row so join early!

On race day, while Freedom Dogs’ four-legged partners will be home, rooting on the runners with their hearts and tails, the organization’s passionate two-legged team members will be out on the waterfront course, volunteering and cheering on those runners who, with each stride made and mile marker passed, are doing their part to help America’s wounded heroes, as board member Lori Walton put it, “to get back into the game of life.”

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Kamran Saeed