More than 70 runners took part Saturday morning in the Wildwood Police Department’s first-ever 5k Fun Run for Autism Awareness.
The $30 entry fee included a T-shirt to commemorate the race, with all other proceeds benefiting Jack & Allie. The non-profit organization through Abel’s Learning Academy for Autism provides people with autism with the life skills needed to succeed as adults.
Terri Howard, the founder of the academy, hoped that the organization’s relationship with the police department would continue to be great on both sides as a result of their collaborative efforts. She and a group from the academy were in the race with other civilians and officers.
All participants lined up a little after 8 a.m. as the sun rose over the starting line of the race. Adults and children were separated into two groups, with the adults running three laps around the park and the children running one lap.
The male and female winners of the children’s race were 7-year-old Heath with a time of 5:01 and 8-year-old Faith with a time of 5:11. Both were very excited to compete in the race, with Faith being both the first female to cross the finish line and the first in her wrestling club to complete the race.
“I felt excited,” said Faith. “I thought I was gonna win, and I did.”
The overall winner of the adult’s 5K was Wade Middleton. The South Sumter track runner finished the race in about 15 minutes, earning himself the first-place spot.
The female winner of the 5K was Carolyn Stevens, an active runner. She was surprised to have been the top female finisher, but proud of herself, nonetheless.
“I just ran at the pace I usually set for myself,” said Stevens.
Awards were given to the racers after all 76 runners had run their course. Each child was given a medal as a reminder of the hard work they put into the race. First through third place trophies were handed out to them, too, while adults were placed first through fifth.
Certificates of appreciation were presented to the organizations that helped make the race possible, including many of the event’s sponsors from across Sumter County.
All the free food available both during and after the race were donated from several different groups, including bananas from Fleet Foot, granola bars from Encounter Church, 114 hamburgers and 100 hotdogs from Best Meats, sandwiches from Subway and water bottles from Mike Scott Plumbing.
The medals and trophies were donated by Lake Panasoffkee United Methodist Church. Engine 31 of Sumter County Fire Rescue donated their time to the event as they stood by in case of a health emergency. They also brought free hats and fire safety coloring books for the kids to enjoy. In addition, many other groups donated money to the cause, such as a $1,000 donation from the Rotary Club of The Villages.
Extending a special thanks to every runner, sponsor and participant that made it possible was Officer Crystal Acevedo, who spearheaded the entire event. Leading up to the race, she used every avenue possible to get the word out about it. She put flyers in every store in Wildwood’s jurisdiction, contacted local news organizations, and spoke to the City of Wildwood.
“It was such a good turnout,” said Officer Acevedo. “Everybody enjoyed themselves, too, even the kids.”