Special Olympian Aaron Eucker, of Morris, was happy to have crossed the finish line in good time Saturday morning during the Run the Beat 5K. Out of breath, but with a smile on his face, Eucker said that even though he has run a lot of races with Special Olympics, this is his first 5K.
“I just like running,” he said. “This was a lot harder. There were some points that I thought I was going to give up.”
But he persevered and was one of the more than 200 runners who made it through and raised money for Special Connections of Grundy County, an organization dedicated to connect disabled adults with their communities through social interactions and recreational opportunities.
This is the first year the race has dedicated funding to the group. In previous years, proceeds have gone toward Special Olympics. Organizer Officer Steve Huetteman of the Morris Police Department said it’s nice to keep the money purely local this year.
“Special Connections is a fantastic organization,” he said on race day. “These people participate in their activities all-year round. They need funding for travel, for food and for other expenses for their events.”
Susan McNabb, director of Illinois Valley Community Living Center in Morris, said she was thrilled that the proceeds will be going to Special Connections.
“Anything to help our local people,” she said. “One of the things the money will be used for is to purchase uniforms for our Special Olympics events.
"We’re growing by leaps and bounds. ... It will also go toward resources that will be used to find proper therapists and for events designed to connect our people to their communities. Any need, any age. We try to help get them to the proper places. We work hard to find ways to get them accepted into the community.”
Revenues from the race could also go toward the sensory garden the group is planting in CanalPort Plaza, as well.
McNabb said Special Connections was begun two years ago to meet social and other needs of adults with disabilities. Its members participate in basketball, golf, bocce, swimming, bowling, and track and field events.
Seneca resident Hannah Boswell works for Illinois Valley Community Living and described the dedication of funds to Special Connections as “awesome.” The race itself is something they were all looking forward to, as well. A couple of them arrived at Goold Park in anticipation three hours before the race began.
“They love it,” Boswell said. “This is what they live for, the sports events. There’s not a lot for them to do here, and this makes them so happy. They’re great people.”
Special Connections member Katie Malcolm fired the gun that began the race. A global messenger for Special Olympics, Malcolm said she was having fun at the event. Being involved is a great way to make new friends, too, she added.
“It was just amazing,” she said of firing the starting gun that allowed the couple of hundred participants to take off. “I lost my hearing because it was so loud.”
Ben Mueller, of Sycamore, Ill., came in first at the finish line, with an 18:43 time. It’s the seventh time he’s run the event.
“It’s my first win,” he said. “It feels really good to get a win here.”
He said he thinks he did so well this time because of triathlons he participated in over the summer.
“I did a lot of biking, too, to stay fit,” he said. “It’s a matter of perseverance and believing in yourself. ... It is a good cause, too. I’m happy to support it. Everyone needs to be able to have the ability to compete. It’s good for them and for their self-esteem.”
Second place overall was Kibet Rono (18:55) and third was Javier Martinez (19:10). Top overall female was Kate Spangler at 19:44. Second place female was Tessa Wulffen (20:54) and third was Nicole Fritz (22:07).
This was 11-year-old Ben Krause’s first time running a 5K, and the Mazon student crossed the finish time with few problems.
“I was always the fastest in my class in school,” he said. “The only hard part was trying to keep up with people.”
Jason Hasselbring, also of Mazon, said he only began running six months ago. The reason for his inspiration, he said with a laugh, was because his little brother was faster than him.
“I started with the ‘Couch to 5K’ program,” he said. “I improved my time over the Corn Fest run by about a minute.”
Huetteman said something new to the Run the Beat event this year was a kids’ 800-meter dash.
“We had eight or 10 participants,” he said of the dash. “They had a great time. It was our first year for the dash. Next year I’m sure we’ll have more.”
Winners of the kids’ dash were Kyle Bell, 11, of Jolie,t in the boys’ division and Kylie Williams, 7, of Morris, in the girls’.
Complete results of Run the Beat 5K can be obtained at www.specialconnections.org.