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Firefighters run race in support of injured brother

  • Thursday, September 26, 2013

Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Pictured, from left, SRS firefighters Phillip Weathers, Dwayne Sanford, Tony Smiley, Jay Evans and Alex Murray, who donned their bunker gear on Saturday to run in the Wesley Spires 5K Run and Walk. Spires, a volunteer firefighter, was attacked at the Riverwalk in Augusta on May 3.

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It was an exercise of physical endurance but also brotherhood.


On Saturday, five firefighters ran the entire length of the Wesley Spires 5K Run and Walk in North Augusta, never leaving a man behind. And, side by side, they finished in the same fashion.


The firefighters from the Savannah River Site were just a few of the more than 120 people who ran or walked in the 5K, which benefitted Edgefield resident Wesley Spires.


Spires and his girlfriend Ashley Solesbee were brutally attacked while walking on the Riverwalk in Augusta on May 3. Two men approached them, demanded money from them and then assaulted them using a metal bat or pipe. Two men have been arrested and charged with the crime.


Solesbee suffered five facial fractures and a laceration on her head. Spires, who is a volunteer firefighter, had a skull fracture and bleeding to the brain. After the attack, the two made it to Spires’ truck, and he drove them to a hospital, where Spires would end up staying for a month.


Saturday’s event was organized by Spires’ sister Harriet Smith and her husband as a way to help cover Spires’ medical bills. He does not have insurance.


“He’s had a lot of doctor’s visits, and, of course, the hospital stay he was originally in there for,” Smith said, adding that Spires has another surgery coming up to replace a piece of his skull that was removed.


She said Spires is doing well physically. He even walked the 5K course on Saturday.


“He’s an outdoorsy person, so he’s trying to get back and do his normal activities,” she said. “He wants to get back into his normal life, and he knows that’ll take a while.”


Smith said their family appreciates the outpouring of support from the community, from people making monetary donations to others who brought food items to them in the hospital and now the turnout at Saturday’s race.


“It was very touching to know that people out there care and want to help,” she said.


Saturday’s course began at the Riverview Park Activities Center and took place on the North Augusta Greeneway Trail.


Vickie Harby works with Solesbee and ran the race to support Spires.


“As far as I’m concerned, he saved Ashley’s life,” she said.


Patrick Gelinas had the winning time of 19:41, but about 40 minutes after the race started, five firefighters from the SRS fire department rounded the final corner of the course, and people gathered at the finish line to clap and cheer them to the finish.


“We’re representing brotherhood,” firefighter Tony Smiley said as sweat poured off his face after the race. “It’s a way of showing dedication and inspiration to Wesley Spires. We represent the Georgia and South Carolina firefighters, representing one team and one mission. We’re here to protect and serve and show that we care – we’re all brothers.”


“It doesn’t matter what department or what state,” added firefighter Dwayne Sanford, who sat catching his breath on a hill beside the course.


The men have participated in other races and fundraisers in their gear, which adds up to about 65 pounds. Sometimes they run with their air tanks, and other times they run without.


“The distance isn’t hard; it’s dealing with the heat,” Sanford said. “Throughout the race, one of us is, ‘Man, I’ve got to stop.’ ‘No, man, come on. Keep going.’ You just help each other along.”


Phillip Weathers slung his air tank over his shoulder as the firemen left the recreation center. He said completing such a task is more about mental strength than physical.


“Anybody could do it,” he said. “You’ve just got to dig to find the heart, and then you just do it.”


Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.


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