NEWBURYPORT — Ever since its inception the 1st. Lt. Derek Hines Flag Day 5K has been a popular and meaningful community event, one meant to honor the Newburyport resident who was killed serving in Afghanistan while raising funds to support local military personnel who have suffered serious injuries in the line of duty. But when the pandemic hit last spring, the race’s organizers had to make the difficult and last-minute decision to shift to a virtual format.
This year, with the vaccine rollout helping bring about a return to normalcy, the Hines family now found themselves in the opposite position. Do they stick with the plan and move forward with a second virtual race? Or abruptly change course once again.
“Ultimately we made the decision that the safest way to have our event this year was to keep it a virtual event,” said Trevor Hines, Derek’s younger brother and one of the race’s lead organizers. “We knew by planning well in advance, sticking with our decision and really executing on a strategy that was well thought out and organized, it would help us have a more successful event.”
That decision appears to be paying off, and with a year of experience hosting a virtual race under their belt, the 10th annual Flag Day 5K is shaping up to be one of the most successful in the race’s history.
“We’re seeing fantastic numbers, as of last week we were up over 700 registrations, which was just remarkable,” Hines said. “It’s funny because the virtual aspect of the event allows us to have a bigger, worldwide presence. I’ve heard from people in Korea, Japan, Djibouti, Germany, Poland, even some members of the armed forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s crazy the power we can have doing a virtual event, and when it can spread like this it just continues to spread Derek’s story.”
Hines, who grew up in Amesbury and Newburyport and was a hockey and lacrosse star at St. John’s Prep, went on to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Following his graduation he joined the 173rd Airborne Division in Vicenza, Italy, before he was killed at age 25 in Baylough, Afghanistan in 2005.
When last year’s race went virtual, numerous servicemen who knew Hines personally or were familiar with his story took part, and in some cases organized their own runs. That trend has continued this year, with Hines noting one participant based in Djibouti has gotten their entire unit involved.
“It’s remarkable that here we are 15 years later and Derek’s story still gets told all over the world,” said Hines, who noted that the race will likely maintain a virtual presence even after going back to full in-person next year. “That’s one of the most comforting thing about this, that Derek and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
Reaching this point hasn’t been easy for the Hines family, who experienced tragedy once again this spring when Michael Hines, Derek and Trevor’s brother and the father of two young children, died of an unexpected illness at age 36. Beyond the pain of losing another family member so young, Michael was also a key race organizer, which added logistical challenges on top of the enormous grief the family already faced.
“Obviously it’s been a rough couple of months for my family, but it’s something that, even with the loss of Derek, it’s challenging but you can’t quit,” Hines said, referring to the resilience they learned after Derek was killed. “That’s kind of the mentality that my parents have instilled on our entire family.”
This year’s race will run from June 10-14, and participants can run their 5K anywhere or anytime they’d like during that stretch. For those who choose to run the race’s traditional route, Hines said there will be a tent with water set up, and those who register will also receive a t-shirt and swag bag.
Unlike last year, participants will now have the ability to submit their times so that official results can be compiled. Hines also encouraged participants to follow the event’s social media channels on Facebook (1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund) and Instagram (@DerekHinesFund) for updates, announcements and a special video presentation.
Registration is $30 per runner, and discounts are available for active duty personnel and veterans. For more information visit: https://derekhinesfund.com/flag-day-5k/.