This morning I did a quick drive down I-40 to Sampson County to take part in a Relay for Life event, the 5th annual Strollin', Trottin' and Walking for Walker 5k in Clinton, North Carolina. This event is in honor of Walker "Mr. B" Bellamy, who directed the Clinton Recreation Department and the Clinton-Sampson Recreation Department for over 30 years. (That's him behind the "W" and pictured below.) According to race director Judi Nicholson, the current Clinton Director of Parks and Recreation, if you give "Mr. B" long enough, he will tell you how he built Royal Lane Park himself over the years! The first Walking for Walker event was held to show support for Mr. B in his battle against cancer and to raise money for the Clinton Relay for Life event held in June. As Mr. B continues his fight, this event goes on to keep up the support and to celebrate his service to the people of Clinton and Sampson County.
Royal Lane Park is a hub of fitness and exercise in Clinton. When I arrived before the race, there were several folks out on the quarter-mile walking track getting their morning exercise done (and they were still doing laps when we were headed out). Soccer practices and games were going on all over the park, and the softball fields only looked temporarily empty. The volunteers at the check-in couldn't have been any nicer, and I was quickly bibbed and presented with a great optic-yellow "5th annual Walking for Walker" t-shirt. Since the message of the event was celebratory and not competitive, there weren't any chips to distribute, but they had set up a big digital clock to display finish times. In addition to the 5k, there was also a quarter-mile walk and a mile fun run. About 60 people took part in the overall festivities.
Just before race time, Mr. B made his grand entrance to the applause of the attendees. Today's race was Mr. B's first outing since his last sickness, so he was obviously glad to be out, and it was easy to see that the folks there -- friends, family and former co-workers -- were happy that Mr. B was able to attend this year's run. The organizers welcomed everyone and announced that this was the largest crowd they had had in the five Walking for Walker events. After a last-minute course review by Judi Nicholson, who organized the race and ran it herself, we were off for an initial lap around the walking track and then off to the rest of the course.
The course itself made great use of the Royal Lane Park property. There is a mulched walking trail that loops all the soccer fields and a playground, and that was the first mile. Fortunately for us visitors, the course itself was very well marked -- so well that it was pretty much impossible to get off-course. Next, we did another lap around the track while the fun mile runners and walkers got lined up for their event. Then we turned off the track again, passed a softball field, and were into the Royal Lane nature trail, a nice rolling walking trail where each rock, root and stump had been carefully marked with fluorescent paint to make sure they didn't present any danger to the trail users.
After another brief stretch on the park road, we were in for what Judi Nicholson called the "diabolical dropoff," an out-and-back on a more rural dirt trail that included a sudden descent of about six feet (also very well-marked). Before I got to the dropoff, though, I was delighted with a sudden rush of at least five deer through the woods and across the run route directly ahead of myself and another runner. Thank goodness I wasn't any faster or I would have gotten stampeded! But they were very impressive in their speed and the ease of their running -- I wish I had been moving that easily!
After a quick loop and a trip back up the dropoff, we had one more trip down the nature trail and one more pass around the mulch walking trail, we were back on the track for a quick sprint to the finish line. All the runners and walkers in both events were recognized with a Mr. B victory medal, and I was delighted with a surprise 1st-place age group finish! (OK, it wasn't a very big race, only about 15 runners and walkers.)
As the 5k runners and walkers finished, so did some of the slower mile walkers from the fun run event. Mr. B obviously brings out folks of all ages and abilities who enjoy celebrating his service and character, and having wonderful spring weather for the events didn't hurt, either.
The post-race festivities included a "Mr. B" look-alike contest for men, women and canines, and an encouragement to keep spreading the word about the Walking for Walker events, so that it can get bigger each year -- 100 runners and walkers is the goal for next year (an aid station and some post-race fluids will be needed for that big a crowd, though). Here's hoping that Mr. B and the wonderful folks who organize the Clinton Relay for Life events will be "Walking for Walker" for many more years to come! Like they say at the race, "no matter how you get there, if you finish you're a winner!"