Special Olympics 5k to be held December 3

BY MIGUEL MOLINA, Alachua Chronicle Contributor

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The second annual “Race for Inclusion – Gainesville” 5k event will take place at Flavet Field on Dec. 3 at 9:15 a.m. and will raise money for Special Olympics Florida athletes.

The event will feature the Gainesville Street Rods and an Olympic Village. Scott Mello, president of Gainesville Street Rods, says GSR will put on a car show at the parking lot next to Flavet Field at the end of the race to showcase members’ cars. Almost all the cars that will be shown at the event are from before 1970, but due to possible complications with the weather, there is no exact number of cars that will be showcased. Some of the cars that might be at the race are a 1941 Ford Pickup, a 1955 Chevrolet Suburban, and a 1964 Oldsmobile. Depending on the vehicle, kids might have the opportunity to go inside. Mello says GSR participates in events like this to give back to the community and that it is nice to see the kids enjoy themselves.

John Robles, director of corporate partnerships for Special Olympics Florida, says another new thing that the organization is adding to this year’s 5k is the creation of the Olympic Village. The village will be exclusive to Special Olympics athletes and will be built on the field. Arts4All will be at the village providing arts and crafts for the athletes to create once they have finished the race.

Participants can register at the event or online at www.raceforinclusion.org until Dec. 2 at noon; there is no registration fee. Although the event is free, the organization is asking each participant to have a fundraising goal of at least $100. Participants who reach this goal will receive a race shirt and medal. Robles says he expects attendance to double for this year’s event. Last year, around 150 people came to the race.

Check-in opens at 7:30 a.m., and opening remarks begin at 8:50 a.m. Sherry Wheelock, the president and CEO of Special Olympics Florida (SOFL), will be one of the people speaking. The 5k will start at 9:15 a.m. and will take place on the “Fraternity Row” route. The race begins at Flavet Field, goes around Lake Alice, goes through Fraternity Row, and finishes back at the field. The course was chosen again for this year’s event because it is popular and there are several fraternity members participating. Some of the fraternity houses will have tables with water set up for runners.

There were 25 SOFL athletes in last year’s race, and there will be athletes participating in the upcoming event as well. “Bring a smile and maybe a hug because some of the athletes like to hug,” Robles said. No prizes will be given because this is not a competitive 5k; the event is not about who wins but about getting athletes to feel included in a community that supports them. “We want members of the community to understand and accept our athletes as contributing members of society, not just a handout,” Robles said.

SOFL uses this 5k to raise money to help provide sports training, competition, and critical health services to almost 60,000 Special Olympics Florida athletes. The organization also uses the event to raise awareness of who qualifies to be a Special Olympics athlete. He says people tend to believe that a SO athlete is someone who is missing a limb, but those athletes are part of the Paralympics. Special Olympics athletes have to have an intellectual disability or developmental disability to qualify for the program.

Because the $50,000 fundraising goal was met last year, the organization is bringing the race back to the University of Florida. The fundraising goal for this year’s 5k is the same as last year’s. Apart from the shirt participants get after raising $100, there are other incentives to raise money for the event. Hats, tumblers, hoodies, jackets, speakers, coolers, umbrellas, and iPads are some of the items people can get depending on how much they fundraise. The money raised for the race goes directly to the athletes. For example, donors can help an athlete by sponsoring their sports equipment, uniform, and the sport the athlete plays. Besides sports, the money can be used to provide athletes with health services if needed.

Adrienne Bunn says the new additions to this year’s event will lead to more people getting involved and supporting the cause. Bunn is a SOFL athlete that competes in triathlons. In the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, she won a gold medal in Female Triathlon. After running the 5k last year, Bunn says she had an amazing time running with her fellow athletes and it was great to see many people support her.  She is planning to do the race again this year.