He grew up on the sand-dusted streets of Seaside Park. He and his friends thumped basketballs on the courts off 24th Avenue. They were a tight-knit group.
John A. Lyons went off to college after graduating from Central Regional High School in 2003. He earned not one, but two degrees in political science and Latin from Rutgers University in 2008.
"He was a genius," his childhood friend Jennifer Padavano recalls.
Then John Lyons enlisted in the Army. He rose to the rank of sergeant.
"We were best friends," Padavano said. "We stayed close until he went to Afghanistan."
And his short, 26-year-old life came to an end in Afghanistan last October 26, when he died of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire in Ghazni province, Afghanistan
"It was surreal for a time," Padavano said. "Sometimes, I think we still feel that way."
Padavano, Lyons' many friends from Seaside Park and Berkeley Township officials gathered Saturday at the place where he played so many times at 9 a.m. They dedicated the renovated basketball courts on 24th Avenue in South Seaside Park in his honor.
Padavano - with much help from family and friends - has organized the "Run to Remember" to honor John Lyons. The 5k run kicks off at 10 a.m., preceded by a one-mile "fun run" at 9:30 a.m. All of the proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project.
"We want to remember him in a positive way," Padavano said.
Registration for the 5k run is $25, and includes a T-shirt "while they last," according to the event flier. Registration for the one-mile run is $10. Registration for the rain or shine event starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning at the 24th Avenue basketball courts.
Prizes will be awarded to the top three overall male and female contestants and age groups. Ribbons will be given to all runners. For more information, contact Padavano at email@example.com.
Lyons' death reverberated through this small town bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay.
Berkeley Township police and New Jersey State Police escorted his funeral procession down the main streets of South Seaside Park in November before heading to the Timothy E. Ryan Home for Funerals on St. Catherine Boulevard.
Lyons was also remembered at the annual Blessing of the Fleet last week on Barnegat Bay, when 90-year-old Navy veteran Alex Hermos carefully flung a wreath of red, white and blue carnations on the bay waters.