By Diana Matthews
The ninth annual Columbus County Community Farmers Market Fun Run and Walk brought together about 300 adults and children Saturday morning to dash or stroll a 5-kilometer (3.13 mile) course down Hwy. 701 Business to the tree-lined streets of uptown Whiteville and back.
Sponsored by the market since 2010, the event includes whole families, teams of coworkers and a growing contingent of elementary- and middle-school running teams.
The Run/Walk was originally scheduled for May 19, but it was postponed because of heavy rain. About 500 had registered for the original date.
The fastest runner was Heath Fore, who finished the course in 19 minutes, 38 seconds, while pushing a stroller. Less than a minute behind him were Jalen McMillian and Brandon Nguyen. The first female runner to finish, and 16th overall, was Faith Todd, with a time of 29:09, followed by Katie Strickland and Ashley Gore.
Before the race
Run/Walk volunteers, with help from law enforcement, had created a traffic-free route across the Worthington bridge and arranged for parking, safety and water for the hundreds of people expected to show up. Sponsors offered snacks and water at tents next to the start/finish area. The market remained open during the competition, with volunteers directing traffic in and out.
Girls On The Run and STRIDE teams from nine area schools gathered in the grassy area across from the market to cheer before the race. “There were 225 kids across the county that participated in the program, and I would estimate about 175 there” Saturday, said Rachel Smith, assistant principal and Girls On The Run coach at Hallsboro-Artesia Elementary School, who partnered with the market to start the run in 2010 and has directed it every year.
GOTR and STRIDE are YMCA-created curricula that were in use in a few local schools last year, but this year, with support from the Columbus County YMCA Steering Committee, they expanded to nine county schools plus Edgewood Elementary in Whiteville. Along with fitness and fun, the programs incorporate positive relationship skills and attitudes such as responsibility, respect, optimism and gratitude.
“The YMCA has allowed (our running teams) to make the fun run part of our program in past years,” Smith said, “but this is the first year they’ve been a sponsor of the run, and that allowed us to do some things we couldn’t before.” Normally it costs $70 for a student to take part in GOTR or STRIDE, she said, but support from the YMCA lowered that to $10.
Farmers Market volunteer marketing consultant Kip Godwin welcomed the competitors as they lined up on Government Center Road, between the market and the public walking trail. “Follow the route signs,” he said. “Stay with your running buddy. Stop for water because it’s warm today. Push yourself, but not too hard.”
Godwin thanked Smith and the 50 or more volunteers who organized this year’s run/walk. “We couldn’t have this run without the help of the people at Parks and Rec, and the Whiteville Police and the Sheriff’s office and all our sponsors,” said Godwin before counting down to the starting horn.
Cerro Gordo Elementary School GOTR coach Mary B. Waddell brought 12 girls to the race. Another eight had trained but had a dance recital the day of the run.
The youngest participant was 8 years old; the oldest was 76.
Summer Taylor, 9, is a member of Smith’s GOTR team at HAES. Summer’s father, Bobby Taylor, said that “She’s been very dedicated and very excited” about her running since beginning to train in March for her first 5K.
5 kilometers later
“It was hard, but I liked having my friends to be with and be encouraged by,” said Summer after the run. “It was fun being with them.” Now that she has developed the habit, Summer plans to continue her running “anywhere”.
Rashad Dewitt poured on speed in the final stretch to come in seventh across the finish line. A member of the STRIDE team from Tabor City Middle School, Rashad has been running since the age of 5, when his sister DeeDee encouraged him to start.
Rashad’s STRIDE coach Curtis Moss was “very proud” of his team. “They practiced hard for this,” he said. “They did well today.”
Edgewood Elementary School fourth grader Hugo Reyes is 9 years old. His sisters and mother came to cheer him on in his first race. He and his team members trained two afternoons a week with coach Kalee Hill.
Saturday morning conditions were “nice,” Hugo said, although “kind of hot.” When he and some of his teammates began to be overtaken, he said, “I didn’t want to be last, and my friends said to go on.” Each elementary school-age runner from GOTR or STRIDE had an assigned adult running buddy in addition to his or her teammates.
Carol Caldwell, director of the Columbus County DREAM Center, was run/walk buddy to Xabreona Waddell, a fifth grader at Edgewood.
Kay Inman was one of many Columbus Regional Healthcare employees who participated. “I ran a while and walked a while,” she said. She thought the weather was “perfect,” and she felt ready to “do it again this afternoon.” Inman runs and walks year-round.
Fred Mason also is a regular runner. He described the event as “definitely fun. Even though the sun was out, it wasn’t hot with humidity.”
Jeanette Norris cheered on her three granddaughters, Summer Norris, Autumn Norris and Winter Wilson, accompanied by Winter’s mother, Leslie Norris. Autumn was one of the fastest finishers among 11- and 12-year-old girls. TCMS coach Rebecca Shissler was happy about the way the girls’ enthusiasm for running and fitness has spread to the adults in the family.
“We’ve started walking,” Leslie Norris said, speaking for herself and Jeanette Norris, who both had gastric sleeve surgery recently. “We both want to work toward being in the run next year, when we’ll be way smaller.”
Robert Ward and his two sons Nathan and Hunter participated in the run for the first time and found it “very interesting.” The boys are students at Old Dock Elementary School.
“Rachel and her crew did a great job,” said county health department director Kim Smith. “The run gets bigger and better every year. I expect it to be bigger next year. I’m glad to see so many young folks.”
Dalton Dockery confessed that, “It gets tougher every year as I get older.” Dockery was, however, the fastest finisher among men ages 45-49.
The YMCA brought in Setup Events, one of the oldest and largest race-timing companies in the Southeast, to provide logistic support for the run/walk. “We have a really good relationship with the Y,” Setup’s Renee Griffin said. The company assisted with course layout, announcements and timing. Griffin, who deals with large competitive events frequently in her job, praised the organizers of Saturday’s run. “Rachel’s done a phenomenal job, and the run’s gone without a hitch,” she said.
Looking down the road
Smith stated her motivation for establishing and continuing the annual run this way: “Our objective all along has to been to inspire others to live healthier lives by providing a fun running event for everyone from beginners to competitive runners.
“For most of our walkers and runners, this is their first race and our goal is to make it a great experience for them. I’ve had dozens of people tell me over the years that this race “hooked them” on running and has given them the confidence and inspiration to train for and compete in other races – and they come back to ours –year after year.
“Completing the race is an especially powerful experience for young kids, and we hope it helps them see how much strength and potential they have within themselves.”
Lauren Cole, head of the YMCA steering committee, said in April that the growing popularity of the school running programs and the market’s 5K showed that there was public enthusiasm for more fitness-related activities for youth and families. That enthusiasm helped the committee make plans for their next goal of opening two public swimming pools, a project now underway.
Columbus Regional Healthcare System, Columbus County Community Farmers Market, Honeycutt Produce, YMCA, Mary Jo Williamson (State Farm Insurance), First Presbyterian Church of Whiteville, Zaxby’s, Crossroads Church, Columbus County Parks and Recreation Department, Kipling Godwin and Associates, Southeast Pediatrics and 18 other sponsors made the run/walk possible.