At 5 years old, Jayden Briggs has already notched an impressive running resume, having raced across the finish line in three 5K races. And he did them all when he was just 4.
Jayden, the son of Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs, sprinted at the start of the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk in September 2019. Spectators lined the street cheering as the youngster took off during the honorary start for Gold Star and Fallen First Responder families, racing amid a pack of adults.
Later this year, Jayden will run for the first time in a race named in memory of his father, an airman with the 106th Rescue Wing who died in a 2018 helicopter crash in Iraq.
His widow, Rebecca Briggs, announced on March 15 — the three-year anniversary of the fatal crash —the formation of the Dashan J. Briggs Memorial Foundation. In partnership with the Suffolk County Veteran’s Run Series, the foundation will host a summer “Run for Briggs 5K,” which will be done as a virtual event due to uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic. The event will include a one-mile fun run for kids.
“Since my kids actually run 5Ks already, we’re going to do one-mile for other children so next year when it’s in person we’ll have that already going for a second year,” Ms. Briggs said.
Starting a foundation in memory of her late husband was something Ms. Briggs said she knew she wanted to do. But it took time before their family felt ready to begin the process.
“I just felt like right now was a good time to create it and the family was on board,” she said.
The foundation will serve to keep the memory and legacy of Tech. Sgt. Briggs alive and also provide a platform for his children, Jayden and Ava, to take over one day. Part of the foundation’s efforts will be to raise money for student scholarships. A yearly scholarship is already offered in the Riverhead Central School District where Tech. Sgt. Briggs graduated. So fundraising will go toward keeping that tradition going as well to start a scholarship in the Comsewogue School District where Jayden and Ava, who’s 4, currently attend school. Ms. Briggs said she hopes one day her children can be involved in handing out that scholarship.
The foundation will also focus on creating seminars and workshops that offer lessons in certain life skills that aren’t necessarily taught in a typical classroom, such as changing a tire, learning how credit cards work or cooking skills.
Ms. Briggs said they’ll reach out to local schools to get some opinions on potential workshops.
“Our main thing is, Dashan always loved to help people, so if we can help these kids once and then they’re good to go for the rest of their life, then we’d be really happy,” Ms. Briggs said. “That’s our main objective, just to help kids out.”
Ms. Briggs said her mother and sister will both serve on the foundation’s board. Dashan’s grandfather, Eli Briggs, his uncle, Jeremie Briggs, and grandmother, Gloria Smith, will all be on the board as well.
Ms. Briggs said she’s currently going through the process for the foundation to be officially incorporated and granted tax exempt status, at which point it will be easier to begin to recruit sponsors and for businesses to support the foundation. “Once we get that done we can really start moving forward,” she said.
The 5K and fun run will take place Aug. 13-15. Registration will likely open in June. Sayville Running Company will assist in setting up the race and tracking results. Ms. Briggs said the race would have been held Aug. 14 if it could have been held in person.
She hopes the race next year can start near her street in Port Jefferson Station. Her street received an honorary renaming in memory of Tech. Sgt. Briggs. In Riverhead, Lewis Street, where he grew up, was formally renamed Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs Way.
Information about the foundation will be shared on a Facebook page: Dashan Briggs Memorial Page and Events. She’s hoping to distribute T-shirts for the 5K at the Sayville Running Company and wants to find a place in Riverhead that can also distribute T-shirts to registrants.
The past three years have been filled with good and bad days for the Briggs family, particularly during the time from Christmas through mid-March when the loss hits hardest.
“I think the kids feel it even though they don’t really know,” Ms. Briggs said. “They definitely miss their dad a lot. Now that they get older they have more questions. They’re in school, so they see other people with their dads, so it’s tough. We take it day by day.”
Jayden, who turns 6 in July, has always been inquisitive. Ms. Briggs said she tries not to sugarcoat what happened and as time goes on and he asks more questions, she explains as best she can.
“It’s not fair, they say, which it’s not,” she said. “But this is how we keep him alive. We talk about him every day. There’s pictures all over the house so they see him. Sometimes it makes them sad, but most of the times they love hearing stories about what Daddy used to do with them.”
Before their lives were upended three years ago, the Briggs’ had discussed their future and what they wanted to accomplish. Tech. Sgt. Briggs planned to join the FDNY. Ms. Briggs, who was an accountant, had wanted to change her career to something in health care.
Tech. Sgt. Briggs lived his life under his squadron’s motto: “That Others May Live.” He would share stories about how great it made him feel to help other people and to make a difference.
Hearing those stories motivated Ms. Briggs, who is now pursuing a nursing degree while also working as an EMT with Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Services. She’s currently taking classes as prerequisite to applying for nursing school.
“That was my main objective to get into this field, is to do good,” she said. “Our community supported us during a rough time so I’d like to give back.”