A beacon of light
Donning a red-and-blue wig and pants with a large American flag print, Caitlin Rulli found herself on a mission to finish the DAV 5K in Cincinnati last November.
That wasn’t initially the plan. Less than two months out from back surgery, Rulli would have been more than proud to complete the 1-mile loop. But something—or someone—pushed her to keep going.
Like many of the thousands of in-person and virtual DAV 5K participants, Rulli had a veteran in mind with each step she took: her late fiancé, Zachary Kish, an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who died Sept. 2, 2020.
“He loved being in the military and he loved being around other veterans and supporting veterans,” Rulli said. “He was just a remarkable human being.”
Kish spent more than 10 years in the Army, completing four combat tours as a military police officer and K9 handler. He and Rulli met in 2014, shortly after he separated from the military. That same year, they ran their first DAV 5K together.
Kish battled post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries that led to struggles with alcoholism. But Rulli said that whether it was through events like the DAV 5K or volunteering at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, Kish found support and relief through the camaraderie of other veterans. As his partner, Rulli also found comfort in the veteran community, which she said helped her better understand the sacrifices so many men and women have made for their country.
As she copes with the loss of her best friend and partner, she’s driven to keep showing up for veterans.
“I just feel it’s important for veterans to know that there are resources out there and that there are people who do care and do want to help,” Rulli said.
Presented by USAA, the annual DAV 5K is a reminder that no veteran is alone.
“The USAA-DAV relationship with our military and veteran community is strong, productive and firmly based on shared beliefs, values and goals,” said retired Army Col. Gino Montagno, Affinity account manager for USAA.
“We stand side by side with the men, the women and family members who have worn the cloth of the nation and have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy. USAA is extremely proud to sponsor the DAV 5K walk, roll and ride that thanks those who served and raises awareness of the issues our veterans face every day.”
“DAV is a beacon of light for all veterans … and a go-to organization for veterans, where they can get the assistance and information required to help them during and after their service," said Philip Nwachukwu, top fundraiser for the 2022 Cincinnati 5K.
With Veterans Day around the corner from the 5K, Rulli hopes people will continue to remember veterans’ service and sacrifice and help keep the promise to America’s brave men and women.
“Even though we don’t know them all,” Rulli said, “we owe them all.”