FL Wonderful Run 2

The Boston Marathon has Heartbreak Hill. The London Marathon offers a glimpse of Big Ben.

The It’s a Wonderful Run 5K in Seneca Falls has the Bridge Street Bridge.

While the latter race might not carry the prestige of the other two, it does feature the structure many believe to be the inspiration for the bridge scenes in Frank Capra’s iconic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Capra, who produced and directed the 1946 Christmas movie, had visited Seneca Falls a year earlier to find inspiration for Bedford Falls, the fictional town in which the movie takes place. The steel trestle bridge where Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey contemplates his existence is considered by many to be a replica of Seneca Falls’ Bridge Street Bridge.

The real thing happens to be the starting point for a Seneca Falls’ holiday tradition: the It’s a Wonderful Run 5K. Now in its ninth year, the 3.1-mile jaunt through town was held Saturday, Dec. 9, and attracted more than 4,500 runners and walkers. Among those who pounded the pavement were 53 staff members from Seneca Falls Central School District, as well as 40 students and 15 staff members from Romulus Central School District.

The 53 staffers participating from Seneca Falls represent the most since the district began encouraging employees to enter the race five years ago, according to Diane Neal, the chairwoman of the district’s Health and Wellness Committee. If the race experience is any indication, Neal believes this number will only increase in the coming years.

Community spirit

“It’s a fantastic community event,” Neal says. “I’ve participated in a lot of races but nothing is like the It’s a Wonderful Run. There are so many people cheering you on throughout the course. It just completely captures the spirit of the community.”

FL Wonderful Run

The Giftmas Group: (from left) Monica Kuney, Marnie Impastato, Libby Juney, Deena Swenson, Mel Morrin, Trish Brewer, Lindsay Willson and Nicole Spitzer.

Neal says it’s not uncommon to see spectators ringing cowbells or blasting music to give participants a little extra encouragement to make it to the finish line.     

The Seneca Falls Health and Wellness Committee covers a portion of the race fee for staff members. This gesture has an obvious health impact on the staff but also trickles down to the students.

“We have around 200 people on staff, so to have 53 or more than a quarter of them participate was really great,” Neal says. “The race builds camaraderie, and there are health benefits for the staff. Our students watch what their teachers do, so [participating in the race] is setting a great example.”

Numbers are up 

Nearby Romulus Central School District also had a record number of participants, according to district Wellness Coordinator Lindsay Guy.

“We had a really good turnout,” Guy says. “This is the most we’ve ever had in the seven years we’ve participated. About one-third of our students in grades three through sixth were in the race.”

Many of those who participated are members of the Romulus Running Club. The after-school club, which was established by teacher Amanda Pundt, helps keep students fit through an enjoyable running program that includes suggested participation in the It’s a Wonderful Run 5K and another 5K held Memorial Day weekend in Waterloo.

“We started participating in the It’s a Wonderful Run because it’s a local race and it gives the kids a goal to complete,” Guy says. “A lot of our students were very successful (in the race) and some even set personal bests.”

Guy echoed Neal’s thoughts on the uniqueness of the It’s a Wonderful Run.

“It’s so different than any other race,” she says. “It starts in the evening so the houses are lit up and it’s just a beautiful scene. It’s a huge community showcase.”

The race was sandwiched in the middle of a three-day “It’s a Wonderful Life” festival in Seneca Falls that also included a showing of the movie, a craft fair, live entertainment and a cooking competition.  

“It’s really an event like no other,” Neal says. “If you’ve never experienced it you need to come on out.”

St. Michael Turkey Trot

Penn Yan Central School District’s inaugural showing in the St. Michael School Turkey Trot couldn’t have gone much better with eight of the first 10 finishers having a connection to the district.

But according to Jon MacKerchar, the co-chairman of the district’s Wellness Committee, it wasn’t about the bling winners received for placing in their age groups that made the race so enjoyable, but rather celebrating Thanksgiving morning with your colleagues, friends and neighbors. Forty-two staff members from the district participated in the 3.1-mile race, and many brought their family and friends to join in on the festivities.

“I think a lot of people didn’t necessarily go for the running aspect but rather to see their friends,” MacKerchar says. “I’d say around 95 percent of the participants are from (the village of) Penn Yan, so it’s a lot like Whoville. Everybody seems to know each other.”

Penn Yan encouraged staff to sign up for the race by offering to cover approximately half of the entrance fee, MacKerchar says.

“The idea is healthier people are happier people and that’s good for the workplace,” MacKerchar says. “The students also benefit from it.”

The race also created friendships and built camaraderie among the employees.

 “Some staff members got together and formed small groups to train for the race,” he says. “They really supported each other as they prepared for the race.”

 That support was evident on race day as well. A great majority of the staff remained at the finish line after they had completed the course to cheer on their colleagues.

Running against the freezing wind

The Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES Midlakes Education Center planned its inaugural Turkey Trot for Nov. 20. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t exactly cooperate.

“The temperature was in the 30s and there was a really strong wind that left the wind chill in the teens,” MEC physical education teacher Jen Meehan says. “The Turkey Trot still went on but some of our students and faculty were a little deterred by the heavy wind, so they decided to have their own Turkey Trot the next day.”

When combining the two trots, Meehan says more than 150 students and staff participated in the 1-mile walk around the campus of the Clifton Springs-based school that provides instructional services to those ages 5-21 with autism and other developmental disabilities. This was the school’s first Turkey Trot, but not the last.

“We are already planning for next year,” Meehan says. “People liked it so much and that’s not really a surprise. I think most people would rather be outdoors enjoying themselves than inside a classroom. [The Turkey Trot] is something I’ve wanted to do here for a long time. I’m really glad it finally happened.”

The “official Turkey Trot,” which is what Meehan has dubbed the event that occurred Nov. 20, was broken down into two groups with the older students participating in the morning and the youngsters in the afternoon. All students received a participation certificate upon completing the trot.

“We wanted to give everybody a certificate so they can bring it home and say ‘Look, Mom and Dad, I completed this physical activity outside,’” Meehan says. “Turkey trots are real-life events that happen all over but most of our students don’t get to go to. It was nice to see the kids out there walking in a group and having a good time.”