An Ironman for an Officer

In January 2002, Upper Darby police officer Dennis McNamara was shot and killed while on duty. McNamara became the first officer killed in the line of duty in the town of Upper Darby. McNamara was a loving father, husband, musician, runner, good cop, and good man.

When I saw the story on the news, I was hit hard. McNamara, was 43 at the time, grew up in Greater Philadelphia, had two children and was an avid fitness enthusiast and runner who spoke often about wanting to someday run a marathon. I saw many similarities between Dennis McNamara and myself and I felt the need to help. I decided to do something that I thought Dennis might have appreciated while helping out the family. I immediately reached out to a couple of buddies in the police department and to McNamara’s family and pitched my plan. It was my goal to race Ironman USA Lake Placid in July of 2002 and use my participation in the event to raise awareness of the tragic McNamara shooting, and raise funds for the family. (Ironman = 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run).

I contacted the race management team at Ironman USA to request that I be assigned a specific bib number: Officer McNamara’s badge number 121. The race officials were very open and receptive to the idea, as was the entire Upper Darby Police force who provided me with UDPD workout clothes, and an open invitation to train in their gym facility at the station. The project gathered a lot of steam and publicity and I received well wishes from police officers, and even the widows of officers from all around the country and as far away as Canada.

The race itself proved to be very challenging, as ironman usually does. Harsh rains and flooding made this one particularly tough. But Dennis McNamara was tough, and I hoped to be too that day. It poured rain off and on most of the race. At times my running shoes felt like 20 pound sand bags strapped to my feet. It was a long and tiring day, but I got through it. And all of the pain and rained soaked discomfort disappeared as I crossed the street and approached the Olympic speed skating oval which serves as the race’s finish line. Standing there in the pouring rain, awaiting my arrival, were two Lake Placid police officers. These men were total strangers to me. I glanced up and through the rain saw them huddled together and talking. As I drew closer I heard one say, “Yes, that’s him …. Number 121 …. That’s the guy for McNamara from Philly”. With that, both men stood at attention, saluted me, and thanked me for what I had done. The emotion of the race, the cause, and the site of the Lake Placid cops took me over and I completely lost it.

As if that wasn’t enough, as I entered the Oval, there stood my own two daughters ready to grab my hand and run me home across the finish line as they had in races past and in races yet to come. It was a good day.

Shorty after the race, that need to do something still wasn’t completely satisfied. Given the fact that Dennis McNamara was a musician, I wrote a song from the perspective of a 10 year old that lost her dad. I recruited my buddy Scott McClatchy and told him that I wanted to do something with the song and he took it from there. Scott made a couple of calls and booked one of the best studios in NYC and the talented producer M. Hans Liebert who, just finishing up a project with James Taylor, graciously donated his time, musicians, and resources. When we recorded the song, we did nothing with it other than present it to Diane McNamara in honor and respect for her fallen hero.

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