Freedom’s Run kicks off Saturday
Approximately 3,000 runners and their families will ascend upon Shepherdstown today in anticipation for the 3rd Annual Freedom’s Run event.
The race, co-founded by Mark Cucuzzella and Lois Turco, marries health and the heritage of the region in a five-race experience for runners and walkers of all types.
“It looks like the numbers are going to be better than last year,” Turco said of this year’s participants. “We hope to exceed last year’s total and welcome folks from 39 states and foreign countries.”
And of those participating, many from the Eastern Panhandle will come out to represent the region.
Beth Nagy will join in this year’s festivities for the first time, taking on the 5K. The Harpers Ferry resident recently began a journey of weight loss with the help of Cucuzzella and Tom Shantz, the run’s co-director, and wanted to set a goal to do the Freedom’s Run.
Calling what she will be taking on a “freedom’s aggressive walk,” Nagy has worked with trainers from Gold’s Gym in Charles Town to prepare for the race.
“(T)raining has been walking and walking and more walking,” she said in an email interview. “I had an accident that took my knee out of commission, but I’m almost where I had wanted to be if I hadn’t had to take two weeks out.”
Nagy, whose main goal is to finish her first big race, does not know what to expect from the race attracting thousands to Shepherdstown.
“This is my first time doing anything like this and I really don’t know what to expect from it,” she said “I have friends that are competing in different events and I hope we all do well.”
But some runners, like Hajime Nishi, are coming from farther away.
Nishi is traveling from Tokyo, Japan. The “ecomarathoner,” who will plane hop from Tokyo to Los Angeles to Cincinnati to Baltimore, is not only determined to make this one of 1,000 marathons in 250 countries by 2049, but he is doing this for a cause.
“I am on mission to raise environmental, humanitarian, peace and fund to support Japan quake victims for their peaceful, happy (lives) again,” Nishi said in an email interview.
Cucuzzella hopes the community comes out to support not only their own but visitors like Nishi and others coming from all over to Shepherdstown.
“We want the citizens to come out and see various people visiting the town,” he said. “It’s a powerful testimony to your town when people cheer and welcome you.”
Shepherdstown resident Paul Lambert, who ran the half marathon last year, will run the full marathon this year. He believes, like Cucuzzella, that it’s the community aspect of this race that makes it special. He said no other event promotes health and wellness like Freedom’s Run as well as gives back to the community when it’s all said and done.
“There’s something very special about this event,” Lambert said. “I think it’s the community aspect. That aspect about it is what I’m most impressed with. It brings a very progressive culture to the community.”
While the Freedom’s Run team plans on giving back to community organizations after the event, until the races Saturday morning, Cucuzzella and his team will work until the eleventh hour to make the event a success.
Shantz, who also serves as logistics manager, has been working on plans and permits since March as well as contacting emergency and enforcement personnel for the races – marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K and kids’ fun run. He said everything he has worked on since early this year comes to a head Saturday morning, a time in which he finds himself up almost two days making the event all it can be.
But Shantz’s favorite part comes the day of the races. Watching people succeed and enjoy the race is what makes the stress worthwhile for Shantz.
“If you come to my race and you have to think, then I haven’t done my job,” he said.
And Shantz, Cucuzzella and Turco all agree this logistical undertaking would not be possible without the help of the 400-plus volunteers, garnered by local Holly Morgan Frye, and the sponsors.
“They are going to be the heart and soul out there – the volunteers,” Shantz said.
And Turco, who said in-kind donations come from all over, including Shepherd University and the national parks which runners jog through, allow participants to experience the region.
“This is all in-kind support,” she said. “It just all almost takes your breath away.”
For more information about Freedom’s Run, visit www.freedomsrun.org.