COLUMBUS, Ga. — Gabe Jones has become somewhat of a hero to his own family.
Gabe, 11, ran in the children's Soldier Marathon, which consisted of 26.2 miles over 100 days with the final mile on Nov. 10. As he ran around the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center, he couldn't help but notice the pavers around the sidewalks that commemorate soldiers, both veterans and those killed in action.
All of the participants in the marathon received the name of a fallen soldier. In Gabe's case, it was Marine Lance Cpl. Niall Coti-Sears of Arlington, Va., who was killed in Afghanistan on June 23.
When Gabe finished he told his parents, Ben and Christie, that he didn't want to just run in Coti-Sears' honor. He wanted to buy a paver in his name so the next time he ran, he'll know that he's been remembered.
They discovered that Coti-Sears' mother had established a Facebook page in his honor and had all sorts of photographs and videos about the young Marine.
Christie Jones took Gabe's photograph at the marathon and sent it to Coti-Sears' mom.
Once Gabe learned that each paver costs $250, he began saving his $5-a-week allowance.
When he reached $100, he thought it would take too long to save up the $150 he needed to buy a paver.
"I talked to my parents about it, and I made an appointment to talk to my principal," Gabe said.
He's a sixth grader at Calvary Christian School, and Darlene Turner is the principal.
She agreed to let him sell snacks during a break every day.
Gabe wrote a letter about his project to his classmates' parents and urged everyone who would listen to watch the videos on Coti-Sears' Facebook page.
In less than a month, he collected $146 from selling snacks and from classmates' parents. One parent sent $30.
Gabe's little sister, Kate, 9, even gave him $5 from her allowance. And she gets $2 a week.
Turner gave Gabe the final $4 to make the $250 goal.
When Gabe and his mother went to the National Infantry Museum this month with the money, NIM Foundation president Ben Williams was floored.
He had no idea what Gabe was doing.
At the recent NIM Christmas party, Williams presented Gabe with a miniature paver he could send to Coti-Sears' family. He got one for himself and one for the school, who was behind the project.
Gabe, his family, his classmates and the Coti-Sears family will be invited on Memorial Day when all the new pavers will be dedicated.
"It's good for him to know that there are real heroes, not just Spider-Man and Superman," Christie Jones said. "There is not a better role model than this young man who gave everything for his country. And Gabe has been a role model for our family."
Williams calls Gabe "an amazing young man who showed a lot of leadership and maturity."