FROM THE TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH:
Family of late firefighters presented with medals
BY KELLY GOOCH
Michael Durbin never met Noonday Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Kevin Williams or firefighter Austin Cheek, but he knew he wanted to help preserve their memory.
That's why he did the Hero Rush obstacle race earlier this month in their honor.
The race, held in Irving, is 3 to 5 miles and consists of various obstacles. He went around twice, one time for each of the firefighters, who died in a 2007 fire. And on Tuesday, he presented his finisher medals to the men's mothers.
"It was the first time I had met their families, and I just immediately felt the connection with them, and they kind of adopted me. They couldn't believe somebody who didn't know their children would do something like that ..." he said.
"We cried together. We laughed together. I got to know them through their mothers, and it was a really special moment."
Durbin said his thought is that the mothers will look at that medal on the wall and say, "They're not forgotten."
"I wasn't necessarily looking for a reason to do the race, but when it really hit me it just made sense. ... These guys sacrificed their lives," he said.
The 39-year-old said he initially became interested in distance and obstacle races to better his health.
At the time, he said he weighed about 405 pounds, and the doctor told him he needed to make some changes. So he did and eventually stumbled upon Hero Rush.
He said he set a personal goal and went to the race last year with his youngest son, who is 12.
Since then, Durbin said he's done numerous obstacle races and completed the Texas Spartan Beast ob
stacle race last December.
Although he moved on to harder and more challenging races, he said he still remembered Hero Rush and decided to do it again. This time, it was to honor Williams and Cheek, who died Aug. 3, 2007, as they tried to extinguish a fire inside the living room of a five-bedroom home on Old Jacksonville Highway.
Williams, 42, served in the United States Air Force Reserves during Desert Storm, and was employed by Tyler Fire Extinguishers. He also was a charter member of Bethel Bible Church.
Cheek worked at Office Depot and was a 2006 graduate of Whitehouse High School. He also was a member of Green Acres Baptist Church, South Campus. The 19-year-old enjoyed scuba diving and planned to train as a rescue diver and paramedic. He also was engaged to be married.
Durbin first learned about the two during breakfast around the time of the fire.
He said he had recently moved to Texas from California and was getting used to the small-town community feel when his friend came to visit.
He said they went to breakfast in Flint, and a lot of official vehicles pulled up in the parking lot.
"People started talking. We didn't really know what was going on, but they were covered in soot and they had black on their faces and arms and everything," he said, adding that he then found out that two men died in a fire.
He said he still remembers that moment.
"When those guys came in, there was such an outpouring of emotion from the people that were in (the restaurant). They realized these guys had just lost their brothers," Durbin said. "The firefighter community is such a tight-knit community and it was really my first taste of small-town community, so to experience that was very emotional, and I just never forgot."
He said he lost his father to cancer a couple of years ago and recalls "feeling like everyone has forgotten."
There's the "frustration of everyone goes back to their lives, and you feel like you're carrying that burden of loss alone, and I just really felt like that I wanted these people to know that we hadn't forgotten," Durbin said.
So he told the Noonday Volunteer Fire Department about his plan to do Hero Rush in honor of Williams and Cheek.
Durbin, who is now an honorary member of the department, said he talked with Capt. Raylene Yates, who was up for the idea and had been thinking of a way to bring the families together again.
He said he decided to register for the race twice and do two waves, one heat for each firefighter. He received two finisher medals, which were framed and given to the men's mothers Tuesday night.
He said the obstacles in the race were firefighter-themed, and entry fees from his wave went to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He said Hero Rush waived his registration fees once they realized he wanted to do the race for the fallen firefighters.
His oldest son, 19, also went with him to Hero Rush and provided him with hydration and nutrition during the race, Durbin said.
While he completed the race, he said he thought, "I wonder what those guys were thinking when they got up that morning."
Capt. Yates said she was pleased that Durbin did the race.
"I just thought that was a really selfless, heartfelt, giving thing that he did," she said. "We didn't know him, and he just dedicated this run ... to Kevin and Austin and to their families, and it was an opportunity to bring the Williams family and the Cheek family back together with all of us."
Capt. Yates added, "You don't get people every day who are so caring about a cause in which they believe."
She said the family also was appreciative.
"He just wanted us to know they had not been forgotten. That meant a lot to the families, and it meant a lot to us," she said.