By Doug Hawley
In the midst of the fifth annual Run for John 5K, participants in wheelchairs received first-time focus.
Dalton’s Mike Anderson, who lost his 9-year-old son Peter four years ago to muscular dystrophy, has been active since that time in My Team Triumph, a national organization that deals with MD and other disabilities. On Saturday, Anderson’s efforts resulted in two disabled adults being pushed by several runners along the race’s hilly 3.1-mile route, which starts and finishes at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Dalton and follows Haigmill Lake Road in between.
“I wanted to bring some fun and excitement in the running and race experience for people who do not have that chance,” said the 48-year-old Anderson, who has run several marathons “There is no doubt that they enjoyed the experience.”
Nancy Chavarria, 29, and her brother, Jose Chavarria, 31, both of Chatsworth, were designated captains and enjoyed the free rides.
“I loved it,” said Nancy, who was pushed by Sean Coleman, Thierry Urbain and Matt Smith. “It certainly was a new experience for me.”
Said Jose, who was pushed by Kasey Carpenter, Taylor Anderson, Alan Haigler and Anderson: “It was fun. I want to do it again next year. I drove my own van over here.”
The Chavarrias and those who pushed them — they started two minutes ahead of the rest of the participants — took about 30 minutes to negotiate the course.
“They are remarkable people,” Anderson praised of the two captains. “They show tremendous courage and perseverance. I know the challenges that they face.”
From a competition standpoint, Crandall’s Rafael Pacheco, 21, took top honors by finishing in 17 minutes and 49 seconds on a beautiful 55-degree morning. He was first overall among 217 finishers.
A part-time Dalton State College student, Pacheco graduated from Murray County High, where he ran track and cross country as a senior.
“I took the lead after the first mile,” Pacheco said. “It was a good race. The weather was good.”
Dalton High graduate Carina Nieto, a standout freshman runner at the University of West Georgia, paced the females in 20:04.
The Run for John was organized by John Bruner’s family as a memorial event after he died from a coronary artery anomaly while competing in the Missionary Ridge Road Race in Chattanooga on Aug. 4, 2007. At the time, the former Dalton High cross country and track standout was about to begin his sophomore season with the Georgia College and State University cross country team.
Bruner’s mother, Margie, helps coach distance runners at Dalton High, so the race has special meaning to Nieto.
“I just wanted to run this race for John. Margie is like a second mom,” the 18-year-old Nieto said. “The hills were really tough. I was quite tired at the end.”
Nieto recently earned acclaim as top female distance runner for both track and cross country at West Georgia, and she will represent the United States in the Mexican National Junior Olympics on May 21-26 — probably in the 5K and the 1,500-meter run.
As is their tradition, Margie and her husband, Greg, ran and finished together, coming in at 25:03. In the 50-54 age division, she was first for the females, while he was third among the males.
Masters (40 and older) honors went to Rocky Face’s Michael Sweeney, 46, 19:41; and Chatsworth’s Belinda Young, 43, 22:49.
Dalton’s Fernando Morales, 20, claimed overall runner-up honors in 17:56. Rounding out the top five were Dalton’s Jose Limas, 20, 18:36; Chatsworth’s Jessie Martinez, 12, 18:43; and Chatsworth’s Amaury Jimenez, 27, 19:13.
Others top-five female finishers were Megan Nikoli of St. Louis, Mo., 22:40; Nayeli Jacobo of Chatsworth, 23:12; Chaney Poston of Boone, N.C., 21, 23:13; and Allison Whittle of Dalton, 28, 23:55.
In a preliminary one-mile run for some 100 youth participants, which swelled the number of overall finishers to more than 300, Jairo Lopez and Whitley Whitfield led the boys and girls in 6:26 and 7:07, respectively.
“We were up in numbers about 30 people from last year,” said Joe Gleaton, who has served as the only race director in the event’s history. “I am just amazed that we continue to have the same support and enthusiasm every year.”
The race is only one part of the event, though. With $10,000 worth of college scholarships awarded this year, the total amount given over five years is now at $50,000. These funds have come through corporate and community donations.
Carpet Capital Running Club oversaw logistics for the race, and full results will be available at carpetcapitalrunningclub.com.
Area road racers will have another chance to compete locally with next Saturday’s Bill Gregory Healthcare Classic, which starts and finishes at Bradley Wellness Center. There will be a 10K race for the first time to go with the traditional 5K at the annual event. Both races will start at 8 a.m.