Tuesday morning provided a living demonstration of patriotism and the power of social media.
A lone man, running east on West Market Street while carrying a large American flag caught the attention of Georgie D’Kay, who was driving her daughter to school.
The morning after a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon killed three and injured more than 140 others, D’Kay wanted to snap a picture of the runner. He was going the opposite direction, but she was determined.
After D’Kay dropped off her 15-year daughter at Summit Academy, she returned along West Market Street and spotted the runner again.
“It was kind of an inspiration,” she said.
She pulled ahead of him, stopped in a parking lot and captured an image with her phone as he passed by.
“You rock!” she shouted as he ran past her at a fast pace.
“He smiled,” she recalled later Tuesday afternoon, but no other words were spoken.
About 9 a.m. Tuesday, she posted the picture on the Facebook page of her store, DevilStrip Dolly’s, an art gallery on Bank Street.
“I just figured it would go around Akron,” D’Kay, 43, said. “I didn’t expect it to go worldwide.”
Not even knowing the runner’s name, the social media site heated up with thousands of shares and comments by mid-afternoon.
One of the people to comment was the runner himself: Gabe Pszonowsky, a 35-year-old Ohio Army National Guard lieutenant who has served active duty in the Marine Corps and in the Marine Reserves. He lives in Akron with his wife and two children.
Pszonowsky, who has run the Akron Marathon twice, is part of Team Red, White and Blue, a 16,000-member group whose mission is to enrich the lives of veterans by connecting them to people in their community through physical and social activities.
On Monday night, the group — through social media — asked its members to run through their hometowns with a flag as a show of solidarity with Boston and the rest of the country.
Pszonowsky said he got up early Tuesday, bought an American flag and pole at Walmart and drove to Akron’s Wallhaven area. He ran east toward downtown.
“I thought, ‘What a great message,” said Pszonowsky, an IT consultant, who hoped his run would convey “we are Americans and we will keep being Americans.”
He estimated he ran more than 9 miles Tuesday, covering portions of downtown and the University of Akron campus area before heading back to West Akron.
By that time his image had crisscrossed the globe.
Kayla Ann Smith wrote, “shared in Palm Coast, Fla. God bless him!”
Paul Hartley shared the image in Hull, United Kingdom.
Mikey A. Velez wrote from the scene of Monday’s bombings: “Thank you from Boston to the soldier running in honor of those that suffered. Thank you.”
John Pinter, director of operations for Team Red, White and Blue, said the group is hoping 40 to 50 towns across America where there are local chapters will take part in what he called “Boston Marathon Attack Response Runs.”
Pinter, a 33-year-old West Point graduate who served as a captain in Iraq, said Team Red, White and Blue relies on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach veterans in “an organization of doers.”
The idea of Boston Marathon Attack Response Runs “took off like wildfire,” he said.
Pszonowsky said he received a lot of positive response during his morning run across Akron: “People honking and waving and smiles and thumbs up.”
He called Monday’s attack “saddening.”
Lots of people “put everything they had into getting to Boston. ... It is disappointing that we have people out there who are wiling to do something like that,” he said.
D’Kay said the Boston attacks upset her, but seeing Pszonowsky running made a positive difference Tuesday morning.
“You, sir are awesome,” she wrote on her store’s Facebook page. “And the sight of you brought tears of pride to my eyes. Nice job.”
She suggested the photo should be shared so people could learn a little more about the runner. By Tuesday afternoon, she knew much of Pszonowsky’s story and was blown away by how one little snapshot of one American on a mission to help ease the pain could be launched around the globe.
“He was doing something we were all thinking,” D’Kay said, “but he actually did it.”
For more on Team Red, White and Blue, go to www.teamrwb.org.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.