WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. – Nearly every night here in Central Florida a ceremony takes place that very few attend but many from around the country watch via live stream.
We first featured 12-year old Zechariah Cartledge in 2019 when he was running one mile to honor local law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.
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Since then his nonprofit, Running 4 Heroes, has grown. He’s been able to raise thousands for first responders who have been injured on the job.
You can find Cartledge most nights at Layer Elementary School in Winter Springs where he runs a mile in tribute to fallen first responders. Lights flash and sirens ring out as Cartledge takes seven laps around the school’s bus loop, a personalized “thin blue line” American flag in hand.
The flags are embroidered with the honored officer’s name.
Cartledge said he’s loved running since he was in the first grade.
“At first it was the competition. I loved competing against other kids,” Cartledge remembers. “Eventually that led me to do 5ks.”
When he participated in the Tunnel to Towers charity 5k it left an impression on him.
“I saw all these injured first responders running with me in their full gear and that kind of inspired me to start my own running foundation knowing that I had a passion for running and I wanted to do something good,” Cartledge said. “Two years later we’re doing this and it’s growing with every single mile.”
That’s 800 miles of growth so far.
During every tribute, Cartledge is accompanied by his family and at least one off duty officer. News 6 was there as Cartledge honored Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brian LaVigne.
LaVigne was killed when a fleeing suspect crashed into his patrol car. He was one shift away from retirement.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tim Nazzaro was in attendance.
“Every time he runs he’s gaining more support he’s reaching more people,” Nazzaro said. “He’s helping more people through tough times.”
The tributes attract a national audience who tune in and donate to the cause. As a result, last year Running 4 Heroes was able to award $85,000 dollars in grants to 13 first responders injured in the line of duty.
“It feels great knowing that I’m healing thousands of people just because of a tribute mile that I’m doing,” Cartledge said.
Houston Police Department pilot Chase Cormier is among those who received a grant. Cormier was the sole survivor of a helicopter crash last year. He continues to need medical treatments and physical therapy.
“That support is monumental,” Cormier said. “They provided me with a $5,000 grant that is going towards stem cell and other rehabilitation that is outside the scope of insurance.”
“I think about the families,” Cartledge said. “One of my main lines is the faster I go the faster the families will heal. And I try my best to go as fast as I can.”
Cartledge says he doesn’t want to be a police officer of firefighter. His interest is in aviation. He wants to be a pilot.
“It’s very hard just to say, ‘I want to be police officer or I want to be a firefighter’ and actually try to do it,” Cartledge said. “The support is what keeps me going.”