MORRIS – Wearing patriotic tutus and American flag costumes, members of Team Red ,White and Blue were some of the most spirited runners at the Liberty Days 5K road race Wednesday.
“We just love America,” Team RWB member and Army reserve officer Norm Eaton said. “This is our first year [at the race]. So far it’s been awesome, great, amazing.”
Team RWB’s Chicago chapter drove about 25 of its members down from Chicago for the Liberty 5K run/walk, joining the 558 runners who competed Wednesday.
Julie Applegate of Morris Downtown Development Partnership, which co-hosted the event, said this year was the largest turnout in the race’s five-year history.
“Last year we had about 350 participants,” Applegate said. “The people who’ve done it love it, and then, they tell their friends so it just builds.”
Intended to be a patriotic celebration, the race drew veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen from throughout the area and across the country, including Iraq War veteran David Haynes of Marseilles.
The officers received special recognition before the race began.
“I’m really glad there are so many people coming out to support this,” Haynes said. “It’s patriotic, and it’s a good time. We need more events like this.”
Local veterans groups helped with opening ceremonies. Morris police and fire departments and Morris American Legion Riders headed the race and helped block off streets, while members of the Marine Corps ran among the crowd and sang cadence.
Proceeds from the event benefited Patriots 4 Heroes, local military personnel and veterans, as well as the event’s co-hosts – the MDDP and the Grundy County Farm Bureau Foundation.
The two groups founded the event five years ago to coincide with Independence Day and honor local veterans.
“We wanted to do something in the community that honored our veterans and servicemen and women,” Farm Bureau manager Tasha Bunting said.
Before the main race, kids of all ages competed in the quarter-mile and half-mile fun runs.
All four members of the Pekol family, of Joliet, competed Wednesday for their second year in a row, with Luke Pekol taking first place in the kids 1-mile run.
“Supporting the troops is a great cause, and it’s just a great way to celebrate America,” father Scott Pekol said. “Most importantly, it gets you out here with the whole family.”