- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2018

PERU, Ill. (AP) - An Illinois family has completed a fallen Marine’s dream of building a track at his former high school.

The Capt. Thomas J. Heitmann Memorial Track at St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois was dedicated this month, the Chicago Tribune reported. St. Bede is 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

The track is an example of “God bringing life from death,” said Philip Davey, an abbot at the school.

Thomas Heitmann dreamed of building a track at the academy. He trained for track in the school’s parking lot, and the halls, stairwells and basement of the main facility. The 27-year-old had written to his high school track coach that his experience in track contributed to his success in college and the Marine Corps.

“I would like to see the student runners afforded the same benefits,” Heitmann wrote.

Heitmann died in a training accident in 2011 after the helicopter he was piloting crashed.

The Heitmann family decided to build the track as a way to process their grief and honor Heitmann, said Rachel Christensen, his sister.

St. Bede donated 7 acres (2.8 hectares) around the campus for the track. Heitmann’s family organized six annual “Swing for the Dream” golf fundraisers that collected about $25,000 a year. A mini-documentary about Heitmann that was produced by Rachel Christensen raised about $20,000 for the project.

“I thought this day would never get here,” said Tom Heitmann, Thomas Heitmann’s father. “When we got started, it looked like we’d be doing this the rest of my life.”

The 400-meter track has two long jump and triple jump runways with sand pits, a pole vault runway, shot put and discus areas. It will soon include a soccer field. The school also plans to add bleachers, digital timing equipment and a concession stand.


Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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