BYRON CENTER, Mich. — A Byron Center man will be combining his love of running and law enforcement this weekend when he competes in Grand Rapids' River Bank Run on Saturday in full deputy uniform to honor those who have died in the line of duty.
"It honestly just motivates me, it humbles me, and it just really inspires me," Matt Garbarino said.
For the last 11 years, Garbarino has been a reserve deputy with the Kent County Sheriff's Office.
Since 2015, the extreme athlete has been running with a purpose: To remember fallen officers and deputies.
"To just raise awareness and to say, 'Hey, my special somebody is not forgotten,'" Garbarino said.
Garbarino completes his long runs with a flag held high — one that bears the names of the 57 men, women and K-9 officers who have died in the line of duty.
He's carried the flag during three River Bank Runs and two treks across the state of Michigan — a total of more than 1,000 miles.
But now, his tradition has a twist — for the first time, he'll be running in full deputy gear.
"There will be challenges presented to me, but in comparison to what I'm trying to do it for, it's minimal," Garbarino said.
This year, his purpose hits close to home. He's running for two officers who died in the line of duty in August: Sergeant Ryan Proxmire from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office and Axel, a K-9 officer with the Kent County Sheriff's Office.
"I added Sergeant Proxmire and canine Axel right here as this last row onto my flag this morning," Garbarino said.
Garbarino says when he sets out this week, he won't be running alone.
"I got my friends running with me; they inspire me in ways that probably people don't know," Garbarino said. "I don't always share that publicly, but you know, there's all these internal conversations you have with yourself when you're struggling yourself. And there's a lot in my head when I think about all these individuals, and I'm very thankful I'm very appreciative that their families are allowing me to do that."
This story was originally published by Max Goldwasser on Scripps station WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.