Friday, December 30, 2011

Back in 2010 we weren't flag runners. We didn't have a video camera or shirts that had FlagRunners scrolled across the back. We were just a small flag company, with a pretty loyal stream of customers and their stories. But even then, we were aware of an obvious problem: There are more broken down flagpoles, unable to fly a flag, than flagpoles that fly a flag.

 We are an active crew which has some experience with long distance running and biking. Every road trip, we would stare off into the corn fields and valley's seeing glimpses of flag life, and thinking if only we could be out there, seeing this flag situation first hand. You see, when a flagpole can no longer fly a flag, to us, it feels as though someone started off with an idea or a dream to be a flag flyer. For whatever reason, they wanted to put a flag on their lawn. But over time, the flagpole became unmanageable because parts wore down and before too long, the whole thing became not worth it. We feel flying a flag is never not worth it.

So... where was FlagRunners born? On a bike...

For a flag company, Memorial Day is a milestone each year. We push out flags, flagpole parts and accessories like hot cakes. People need something a simple as a bracket or as complex as 30 deluxe indoor sets shipped next day air for a military ceremony. There is nothing we love more than hearing the stories of our customers around this time of year. But instead of sharing a customer experience, I thought I might share a little story of the Memorial Day weekend of our own.

It started off as a typical weekend. Exhausted from the push of the week, we had a relaxing Friday night. Woke up early Saturday, and I ran 9 miles down to a running race called the Soldier Field 10 mile, where my brother placed 4th out of 10,000 runners. From there we hopped in the car and were off to Indianapolis. Indiana holds a special place in our hearts. Being born there myself, I always felt at home. There is a race called the Little 500, hosted by the University of Indiana, where my father took home 1st place 3 of the 4 years he rode.

But we weren't here for the Little 500, we were here for the Indy 500, a car racing spectacle. We were graciously hosted by one of Dad's college mates, Steve Dayton. The night before the race we headed down to Broad Ripple to watch the Hawks crush the Flyers and prove that it is not always sunny in Philly. We woke up early and, after a small run, biked to the race.

There are very few words in my years of vocab to describe the Indianapolis 500. Always from the TV, we would watch as the announcer gave us the info we needed to stay informed. But this time, on the starting line, we sat in a 95 degree sun and witnessed first hand the impressive machines below. They ripped around the 2.5 mile track at 220 miles per hour causing vibrations to run through the stadium of fans and embrace your entire being.

We sat across the pits, just after the brick line. And if you have been to the track, then you know these are among the best seats available. It was the greatest sports event I have ever been to, charred into my brain. Lost in the moment, I enjoyed the race, all the while a true test of my spirit awaited around the corner.

The next morning after the rains, Dad and I awoke and silently packed our bags over instant coffee. We had a plan to set out from Sharpsville, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois. A 204 mile ride through the back streets of Indiana. What was to follow was a test of wills, a first hand witness of the beauty that is our Midwest and the pride felt by seeing so many flag displays scattered from small town to small town.

The first day demanded a lot. We stopped at each town and surveyed the scene. Flagpoles felt like street lamps lighting out paths. Beautiful flags waved and cheered as we passed. We couldn't help but notice that while the flags were clearly well maintained, many times the hardware could use an upgrade. The biggest reason for loss of flag life is poor equipment. But the sheer mass of flagpoles scattered about Indiana was impressive to say the least.

We finished our 120 mile day in Le Porte, Indiana and were hosted by another college buddy, Tim Todd. He took us in. We found our way to a small bar and continued to inhale 2 large pizzas. That was one of the best night's sleep I have ever had.

The morning came and again we hopped on our bikes and rode through the dunes. Into Gary and around the horn to the south side of Chicago. Rolling up the Lakefront path I felt like I had new eyes on Chicago, a foreigner to the majesty that is this city. We crawled in capping about 97 miles for the second day.

Prior to departure we had visions of what the ride would mean or what we could accomplish or what our hesitations were. And as Murphy's law would have determined, what we met was the unexpected and the lessons we thought were well learned by now, became the struggles laced into the pavement of each mile. Inspired and tired, we agreed that this was the Memorial Day to remember.

This was taken on a cell phone...

This was a year later...
Going 220+ miles an hour, you can see why you would need a flag to attract the attention of the drivers in the Indianapolis 500.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has over 250,000 permanent seats. If they set end to end, they would run for 99.5 miles. It covers 1,025 acres in total. This is an immense sports complex and houses the greatest spectacle in sports racing. Whether rain or shine, the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway boasts a terrific show.

As the FlagRunners, invited to this great event, we came to the ceremony expecting some great racing, but we also couldn't help but notice how deeply tradition and patriotism are ingrained on Memorial Day weekend. Before the race, soldiers drive laps, songs such as "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" are played. A speech from a four-star general is amplified throughout the track. A special prayer is said to bless the event and keep the racers and our troops safe. To cap it all off, military personnel unfold and spread out a massive American flag. Fans begin the race excited, but also with respect and admiration for our troops locally and abroad.

What guides the race? Flags. The green flag, go. The yellow flag, caution, the white flag, one lap remaining, the checkered flag, race is won. Flagpoles line the stadium seats. The speedway comes to life with them. After 100 years, Indianapolis fans and motor sport enthusiasts should be proud of the cultures and memories that have crossed that brick finish line.

And the story continues as we came to the 2012 Indy 500