Texas State exercise and sports science graduate student and recently retired Marine veteran Tim Barrientez honored his fallen brother-in-law who was killed in action by running 500 miles in one month. The campaign's goal is to create traction for a scholarship he and his wife founded in his brother-in-law’s name.
U.S. Army Private first class (PFC) Rey David Cuervo was killed in action on Dec. 28, 2003, while serving in Iraq. He left behind family members who have made their mission to keep his name alive.
Tim, Cuervo's brother-in-law, began a journey of running 500 miles in one month at the beginning of September. The campaign's goal is to match every mile ran to dollars for a scholarship that will be awarded to Port Isabel High School students in their hometown of Port Isabel, Texas.
“I had some ideas and I spoke to my wife [who] is his sister, I was like, ‘you know, I'd like to create a scholarship in his name and raise money to then turn around and give back to our hometown for the high school,' and that was the idea,” Tim said.
Even though Port Isabel named a street in honor of Cuervo, the scholarship was another way to keep his legacy alive, and Tim's vision became all about the execution.
The Rey David Cuervo Memorial Fund scholarship will be awarded to two Port Isabel High School students who show leadership qualities, community involvement and a fitness factor. Applicants will write a ‘thank you' essay to U.S. Army PFC Rey David Cuervo for his service and discuss what winning the scholarship would mean to them. Tim and his wife Valentina Cuervo Barrientez, Cuervo's sister, will be the ones to read the applications and ultimately decide who will receive the awards.
His main concern was about bringing awareness to the scholarship in hopes of sparking interest for donations. The 500 mile journey is the idea he landed on.
“David was a runner and he was a standout runner. His life was cut short and I'm an avid runner and fitness guy and I was like, ‘okay, so how can I tie in fitness into this’ I need to raise money,” Tim said. “Well, you have to do something crazy, especially in the fitness world. You have to do something above and beyond and I chose to run 500 miles because in the running community that's a crazy number.”
Throughout the month of September, Tim set out to complete the daunting mileage. In order to complete the mileage in one month, he needed to average 16.6 miles a day, but he had to approach it logistically.
“That's a lot [of miles] every day, every day, every day, every day. So how do you make it easier on yourself to get to the end? Well, you have to front-load,” Tim said. “You have to run some extra miles for the first two to three weeks to then relieve yourself or get a break in the last few days.”
Running 18-19 miles every day for the first few weeks into the month to balancing graduate school classes, to spending time with his two kids and wife at home, Tim had to stick to a strict schedule.
He said he had to remember the greater purpose behind his struggle.
"I constantly think of the sacrifice of my brother-in-law, not just him but, everyone that that paid the ultimate sacrifice and didn't come back," Tim said. "The service members and just being from that generation and seeing other veterans do some crazy stuff to bring awareness."
Tim said that it will all have been worth it once he and his wife get to hand the awards out to the recipients during senior awards night.
Valentina feels the scholarship is the perfect way to not only give back to the community but also allow her brother to live on.
“With the scholarship, we get to give back to our community. Especially as families of loved ones who have passed, and especially when they pass at a young age, you always wonder what could have been. David was only 24,” Valentina said. “He had just re-enlisted and he was talking about looking for a life partner. So you wonder who he would have become, and with the scholarship, it's kind of like those that we're giving it to get to, [we] kind of give them a little piece of life for David. He gets to go on that journey of what they become.”
The last time Valentina spoke to her brother was on Christmas. Although her brother has passed, she said running makes her feel most connected to him.
“David had raw talent, his coaches from school will tell you. In eighth grade, they ran him up against the varsity team and he came in the top three. He just naturally had that raw talent,” Valentina said. “So that's kind of how running has been a big part, when David was killed, I stopped running for like seven years because there was that connection that I had with him.”
She said that her memory of him as the typical protective older brother will always stick with her.
“He was very protective of our mom. If you pointed it out that he was protective, he'd be like, ‘I don't know what you're talking about, he always did that,” Valentina said. “He didn't like to draw attention to himself, that's kind of the person he was. He was a quiet person, but for those he cared for, he protected them fiercely.”
Six in 10 Americans have immediate family ties to those who have served in the military. Valentina believes it is important to share the stories of loved ones lost in battle.
Tim ended his journey accompanied by friends and family including his own son on Sept. 30 while carrying a flag with his brother-in-law's name hanging off the side. His son, Julien David Barrientez, felt that it was more than just the final six miles.
“For me, it was very personal, my dad is my hero figure. I've always been chasing after my dad growing up, I just want to be half the man he is, so it's very personal.” Julien said.
Videographer Santino Corrales has been by Tim’s side throughout the campaign documenting the long journey. Seeing his grit has only inspired him to do more.
“Witnessing that firsthand, I've never met somebody so determined. I will take some of the way he lives his life and put it into mind. He's awakened something in me too,” Corrales said. “I'm grateful for him taking me on this journey and we're so grateful to put this video out and show everybody the behind-the-scenes work.”
Now that Tim has completed the mileage, the next part of the journey is raising more awareness to increase the scholarship fund.
Donations to the scholarship fund can be made at https://linktr.ee/davidcuervoscholarship. To see behind the scene clips of Tim Barrientez's journey, visit his Instagram @eltimo956.