Student honors victims of 9/11 with a ‘ruck’

First-year student Alex Grayson Westover (in blue t-shirt and black shorts) with members of the University of Miami Police Department and Air Force cadets after completing a 9.11-mile ruck on Friday, Sept. 11. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
By Arabella Riley

First-year student Alex Grayson Westover (in blue t-shirt and black shorts) with members of the University of Miami Police Department and Air Force cadets after completing a 9.11-mile ruck on Friday, Sept. 11. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Student honors victims of 9/11 with a ‘ruck’

By Arabella Riley
First-year student Alex Grayson Westover channeled his passion to commemorate the brave men and women who lost their lives 19 years ago by holding a 9.11-mile ruck—a run or brisk walk carrying a weighted backpack—through the Coral Gables Campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

Unlike a traditional college student, Alex Grayson Westover, a first-year University of Miami student majoring in marine biology and ecology, starts his morning routine at the crack of dawn with a character-building, adrenaline-rushing, heart-pumping ruck. 

Rucking, a term that many are not familiar with, is an activity where one wears a backpack or rucksack with any type of weight in it and goes for a run or walk. 

“When you first hear the word ruck, people think you misspoke,” explained Westover. “Many people do not know what it is, which is a benefit and disadvantage because since no one knows what it is, they don’t join. But it also means that people who do ruck are very passionate about rucking and are welcoming of people who want to join.” 

For Westover, rucking has been a source of inspiration for the past couple years and has positively influenced his focus, determination, and academic performance. 

“Most college kids are night owls,” he said. “I am a morning person, so I will happily get up at 5 or 6 a.m. and go (rucking) for eight or nine miles and just have fun. To me that’s fun, to most of the normal world, it’s not.” 

This year, Westover decided to channel his passion into a tribute for the men and women who lost their lives during the September 11 attacks by rucking 9.11 miles through the University of Miami’s Coral Gables Campus and surrounding neighborhoods. 

“You put in the hard work and it doesn’t matter if you get rewarded for it, you just do it because it makes you feel good,” Westover said. 

When asked how he came up with the idea for this tribute, Westover explained that the idea originally came from a company called GORUCK, which was founded by Jason McCarthy. Westover physically picked up rucking two years ago in North Carolina. He was part of a ruck club, where they would host events that were mixtures of team building exercises and events for charity.

For this year’s 9/11 tribute, Westover, alongside four Air Force cadets and three University of Miami police officers, left the University’s Police Department at 6 a.m. and returned at around 8:20 a.m. 

“Getting up that morning wasn’t a chore. I was genuinely excited to be able to get up and start the day in the best way I could imagine,” he said. 

The group was joined by two Coral Gables Police cruisers who escorted them along the part of their route that had no sidewalks, which was along Ponce de Leon Boulevard and all the way up Granada Boulevard to U.S. Route 41. The officers took positions in the front and back of the group, which provided support at intersections and from oncoming traffic. 

“Being able to carry the American flag and put in those miles alongside fellow UM community members and patriots was something that I will carry with me forever,” said Westover. “The waves and horns of people driving past showed that despite the divisions in our country today, people can still come together for a common good: honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.” 

When the group returned to campus, it was met by David Rivero, chief of the University of Miami Police Department, other members of the department, and members of the University’s Army ROTC, who joined them in honoring the men and women who lost their lives that day 19 years ago. 

It was widely acknowledged by many attendees that they wish to continue the ruck homage and do similar tributes for other remembrances. Westover hopes to make it a yearly tribute, and he welcomes everyone who wants to join him on future rucks. 

“Through one email, only sent as a hopeful thought to carry a flag by myself,” Westover said, “this memorial picked up speed and turned into something that brought smiles and earned respect from so many people.”