Runners lined up at the Ben Franklin Bridge warming their hands, ready to make rush hour at 8 a.m. last Sunday.
Three thousand one hundred runners and walkers came to participate in the AmeriHealth Ben Franklin Bridge Challenge – a 10-kilometer race benefiting the Larc School for students with disabilities in Bellmawr, NJ.
The Ben Franklin Bridge is blocked off during the event, allowing runners to run the distance of the bridge and back and then along the Camden waterfront.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity for runners, and very challenging,” Executive Director of the Larc School Susan Weiner said. “It also allows runners to run on different textures.”
The race attracts a wide range of ages and experience levels with divisions which span from teens up to the 60- to 69-year-old range. There is also a two-mile bridge walk – a way to enjoy the event without suffering severe leg cramps.
Samuel Nderba, 29, won the race with a time of 29:39, with Valentine Orare and Alene Reta only three seconds behind and averaging 4 minutes and 45 seconds per mile. Carmen Douma Houssar, 29, won first place in the women’s division and ninth place overall.
David James of Delaware won first place in the 50- to 59-year-old range with a time of 37:13. He is a member of the U.S. Track and Field Association – the ‘Run the Bridge’ event is one of 11 races in their grand prix.
“It’s always good to win, but doing my best and bettering my time is more important,” James said.
A group wearing shirts saying “Gabie’s Gang,” came to support Gabie Colgan, a student of the Larc School. The group was comprised of friends and family of different ages. Three people from Gabie’s Gang ran while 12 participated in the walk.
“The dog was involved, too,” said Robin Cladine Colgan, Gabie’s mother, as she pointed to the pet, who was dressed in a baggy “Gabie’s Gang” T-shirt.
The Larc School teaches children with multiple disabilities. Hailing from local school districts, students attend Larc because of its accommodating equipment and specialized attention.
Their goal is for each student to reach his or her potential and to gain a better level of independence and communication.
The proceeds from the event will go toward
buying adaptive equipment, computer software and construction of a “sensory garden.”
“It will have plants, sounds, smells and things at different heights so that children in wheelchairs and of different heights will really be able to have hands-on experience with the outdoors and gardening,” Weiner said.
This year’s participation increased from 750 participants in 2002 – it’s first year – to 3,100. An event this large requires much support, with 150 volunteers helping by registering runners, passing out water and directing people.
Rutgers University and Cooper University
Hospital supported the event with Amerihealth and over 50 sponsors.
Weiner said it takes a lot of organization and planning to be able to block off the Ben Franklin Bridge for an event.
“Next week, I’m going to start planning for the 2007 run,” Weiner said.
Stu Jerue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.