By Olivia Garber | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Post-gazette.com | June 30, 2011
Independence Day weekend will mark a tradition of a different kind as two races in the North Hills commemorate the lives of two residents.
In a blend of beginnings and endings, the Race for Virginia and Friends will sponsor its 10th and final event, while runners for the new Fearless 5K take their first steps.
Tragedy inspired both of the races.
In 2002, 9-year-old Virginia Clark died of neuroblastoma. Soon after, those from Seven Fields who knew her planned a race to honor her and raise money for pediatric cancer research at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. In the following years, the race honored other local children who died of cancer.
The first Fearless 5K commemorates Marine Sgt. Joseph Caskey, 24, a West View native killed in Afghanistan last summer.
In the past nine years, Virginia and Friends has raised $375,000 and expects 1,000 runners for its last race, said Bob Markovich, race director.
Mr. Markovich has worked with the race since its beginning. As a runner, he knew what runners were looking for, how much it should cost, how many kilometers to run, what time to hold it and how difficult to make the race.
"Most runners are looking for something a little more challenging," he said. The path in Cranberry Township Community Park is fairly challenging, he said, with a hill at the beginning and end of the race.
When they first started planning, Mr. Markovich knew they wanted to hold it during the Fourth of July weekend.
Mr. Markovich said in seeking sponsors, it's best to contact companies at the start of the year when they're finalizing budgets.
"Understand that it's a time commitment," Mr. Markovich said to future race planners.
Wendy Parrish, a board member of Virginia and Friends, said about 50-60 volunteers start working on the race in January. Some work strictly on fundraising, while others get prizes for the silent auctions. And because most have been doing it for all 10 years, Ms. Parrish said planning the race is almost in "auto mode." "You're just used to what you're doing; you're not chartering new ground," she said.
But there are always details to iron out, Mr. Markovich said, such as calling to confirm the layout of the race with the township, talking to sponsors and ordering T-shirts. By the time mid-March rolls around, the organizers meet two to three times a month. Weekly meetings start in May.
But for many in the community, those who were affected by the people commemorated in the races, the time is well spent and accomplishes a lot. "It helps them heal," Ms. Parrish said.
Friends and family of Sgt. Caskey are hoping for the same kind of success -- and the same emotional outcome -- as the Race for Virginia has enjoyed.
The Fearless 5K was organized to honor him while fundraising for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial assistance to wounded Marines and their families.
The Fearless 5K's numbers are smaller in comparison, with an anticipated 200 runners and $5,000 in funds, but those numbers are close to what Virginia and Friends drew when it first started, Mr. Markovich said.
Megan Clark, president of Fearless 5K and former girlfriend of Sgt. Caskey, said one of the biggest obstacles for the group was finding sponsorship.
Out of the 200 sponsors the group contacted, Ms. Clark said they heard back from about 10 percent. Because many companies need at least a couple months to process requests for sponsorship, Ms. Clark said the group will begin fundraising earlier for the next race.
Ms. Clark booked the race in North Park in November, and her thinking in choosing the July 4 holiday was similar to Mr. Markovich's. She said the holiday weekend would allow more people to attend. The fact that it happens a week after the one-year anniversary of Sgt. Caskey's death was a coincidence, although it gave organizers "something to look forward to," Ms. Clark said.
Because planning for the Fearless 5K began only two months after Sgt. Caskey's death, Ms. Clark said the event has served as a kind of distraction, "keeping me occupied, keeping me busy," she said.
Similar to the Race for Virginia, Fearless 5K board members met once a month starting in January, then went to weekly meetings in June, or "crunch time" as Ms. Clark called it.
The Fearless 5K will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at North Park. Registration fee is $20 and can be taken online at www.active.com or in person from 7 to 8 a.m. on race day at North Park Boat House. Cost then is $25. More information: race president Megan Clark at 866-279-9318 or fearless5K@rocketmail.com.
The 10th Annual Race for Virginia and Friends will be held at 8:30 a.m. Monday at Cranberry Township Municipal Park. Registration fee is $20 and can be taken online at www.raceforvirginia.org or in person from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Cranberry Township Community Park or from 7 to 8 a.m. race day. More information: Bob Markovich at 724-772-7429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.