Mark Palmieri from Vernon Hills, Illinois, is like many people in that he loves to get outside and exercise — especially during quarantine.
He’s a regular at the Lake County Forest Preserves, where he both runs several miles and communes with nature.
“We are blessed to have such amazing preserves so close to our homes,” the 36-year-old told the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald. “I have found a bond with two sandhill cranes that take their morning walk around the same time each day.”
Palmieri is unlike many others, though, and one look at him makes the difference immediately clear: He runs every day with a giant U.S. flag over his shoulder.
It first started when he was training for an event, but then he realized it stood for so much more. He told the Daily Herald “it has become something bigger than me.”
“When people see me running with the flag, it’s generally viewed as a beacon of hope,” he said.
The meaning goes deeper than patriotism. Palmieri helped start a nonprofit called the Three Rangers Foundation, a group that offers support for veterans.
Though he has never served in the military himself, Palmieri works with veterans, and veteran suicide is an issue that is near and dear to his heart.
“I never served but I’m running for those that did,” Palmieri told KTRK-TV.
“You hear a lot of ‘thank you for your service,’ and I have to very quickly identify that I’ve never served,” he added. “And that’s something that I hold in a very high regard, and it’s become now a conversation point around veteran suicide awareness in honoring our fallen.”
Three Rangers Foundation Executive Director Michael Hall, a former U.S. Army command sergeant major, highlighted how important Palmieri’s work it.
“Having the awareness out there for people to understand that the resources are needed to try to figure it out is important,” he said. “It’s got to be kept top of mind.”
“And it’s people like Mark who didn’t serve … who haven’t had the shared experience that we had, that are willing to go out and bring to light such an important issue … those are really, really special people,” he added.
Some people who spot Palmieri with the flag waving over his shoulder honk or wave back. Some aren’t quite so thrilled by the display, but that doesn’t bother him.
“So if I choose to carry a large flag and I have a fellow American, regardless of color, race, creed, that disagrees with me, although I may disagree with them, I love it,” he explained. “I respect it. I think it’s important. Maybe it starts a conversation where we can have a discourse and talk.”
“I hope more people buy into it and it’s viewed as a positive thing.”
Overall, Palmieri has seen his work bring people joy and hopes it helps them press on, even in hard times.
“There has been so much fear and loneliness since the virus hit,” he told the Daily Herald. “When people see me on the trails with the flag, it’s a game-changer.”
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