MANSFIELD -- Lori Cope was a Mansfield police officer on Sept. 11, 2001, taking a report when news crackled across the radio that a plane struck a World Trade Center building.
She marked the 20th-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks by participating in The Great American Relay, a nationwide effort that began Sept. 11 in Boston and will end at the famous Santa Monica Pier, Calif., on Oct. 19.
The relay commemorates the anniversary of 9/11 and raises money for firefighters, police officers and members of the military, using 415 stages across 38 states, covering 3,500 miles in 38 days.
As the safety-service director now for the City of Mansfield, Cope oversees first responders in the police and fire departments, including dispatchers. The effort, clearly, was close to her heart.
On Wednesday morning, after a Tuesday night City Council meeting, Cope made made the two-hour drive to Cedarville. Cope comes from a family of runners, starting herself at age 11.
Her father, Del Russell, ran in dozens of marathons, including four Boston Marathons. After his death last summer, Cope has continued to run in respect of his memory.
With her dad and first responders on her mind and in her heart, Cope accepted the baton Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and ran with it for more than eight miles to Xenia, starting and finishing at the fire departments in both communities, completing stage 126 of the relay.
"It was just a fabulous event," Cope said. "I didn't want to get up and drive that early, but it was a great chance to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.
"I did it because my heart is with safety forces all across the United States. Once you have conversations with people who feel the same, you automatically become close. You just become an instant family."
Cope learned of the event through social media. She instantly wanted to participate and checked the route, finding stage 126 was the closest the relay would come to Mansfield.
"I sent in my information online and I was chosen to be the lead runner for the stage," she said.
Fittingly, Cope was paired to run with a United Airlines flight attendant from Cincinnati. That attendant was not working on the day four different commercial airliners were hijacked by terrorists.
"It was so interesting to talk with her and share stories about what we remembered from that day," she said.
The run itself was not an easy mission, running along a hilly U.S. 42, a busy stretch of heavily trafficked, two-lane road. Making it more interesting was Mother Nature didn't cooperate during the run in southwest Ohio.
"It poured rain the entire time," Cope said with a laugh. "It was a monsoon."
Her mother, Bonny Russell, and her daughter, Nichole Anschutz, drove with the duo during the run to help keep them safe.
Once Cope and her partner arrived in Xenia, a town that knows disaster all too well after a tornado devastated it in 1974, the baton was passed to a group of five to continue the effort.
Cope recalls talking with fellow Mansfield police officer John Fuller when the planes struck the Twin Towers.
"John told me, 'I am going to New York to help,'" Cope remembers the officer saying. "I couldn't go ... I was pregnant with my son."
She couldn't make the trip 20 years ago, but has never forgotten the men and women in the New York City police and fire departments who served, and many who also died, that day.
"It was a honor to participate," Cope said. "I would love to do it again next year."