Consistent with how things often happen in small towns, a large idea was born in a small shop on German Street in Shepherdstown three years ago.
My passion is reversing current trends of inactivity, and Lois Turco sees the rich value in our region for generations to come. Together we created Freedom's Run: An Event for Health and Heritage, a walking and running event with distances ranging from a one-mile kids fun run, a 5K, 10K, a half marathon and a full 26.2-mile marathon.
For the second year in a row, West Virginia University Hospitals-East and Eastern Education Division have been the presenting sponsors. Without their support the event could not go forward.
In 2009 and 2010 we hosted Freedom's Run through four national parks - Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, the C&O Canal NHP, the Potomac Heritage Trail and Antietam National Battlefield. The event gave opportunity for all with multiple distances.
The inaugural event hosted 1,650 participants from 37 states. We sold out in 2010 with participation of 2,700 entrants from 42 states and became the largest running event in West Virginia and the region. We raised money for school-based gardens and fitness trails. The outcome was building a 1.5-mile trail, garden and wetland at Page Jackson Elementary, assisting a similar project at South Jefferson Elementary, donating over $5,000 to the Hedgesville Hight School Community Track project and reconstructing a green house at TA Lowery Elementary. We promoted the significance of the land we were running on and engaged the community in year-round participation in training runs and other events.
With large state and local grants for advertisements, the economic impact to the region grew exponentially in 2010.
We also have been awarded the 2011 Road Runners Club of America East Coast Regional Championship Race, an honor for a third year event. We have created a series of events and just hosted the Inaugural Two Rivers Heritage Half Marathon in Harpers Ferry.
A testimonial to the larger community efforts is the answer to one of the questions we sent out in a post race online survey with 550 responses. We asked: "Do you plan to return/would you encourage others to visit our region/participate?" The Response was 93 percent "yes," 6 percent "maybe" and only 1 percent "no." Another powerful result was from the first question: "Overall how would you rate the Freedom's Run event?" On a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the best, 76.5 percent gave this 5, and 21 percent gave it a 4. Amazingly over 97 percent of our participants were either "Very Satisfied" (the large majority) or "Satisfied" with the event.
We promoted a couple themes during the event. Our youth especially are at risk of losing their sense of "place" - that true understanding of the richness of the land we live on.
Historian and environmentalist Wallace Stenger penned, "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are."
In a 1961 conference of Physical Activity and Youth, John F. Kennedy observed, "We do not want in the United States a nation of spectators. We want a nation of participants in the vigorous life. This is not a matter which can be settled, of course, from Washington. It is really a matter which starts with each individual family"
For those who live in our region and share its sense of "place," the family extends to the community. You, the community, are helping reattach our youth and families to this rich land in an active endeavor.
Freedom's Run brought a "green" theme to the race, too, thanks to the work of Karen Valentine and Go Green Gals. We recycled and composted almost everything.
To register and for more information go to www.freedomsrun.org or stop by the Freedom's Run HQ - Two Rivers Treads in Shepherdstown (304-876-1100). We need volunteers, too. To volunteer please go to the "volunteer" tab of the Freedom's Run homepage.
A massive thanks to all the sponsors, community volunteers, the National Parks Service and the towns of Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg.