Competition, camaraderie bring out the best in runners at Running of the Squares 5K

Hundreds of Villagers were joined by out-of-town visitors and area students in the Running of the Squares on Saturday morning at Lake Sumter Landing. The 5K run is part of a series that started in Brownwood last fall and will conclude with the running of a 5K at Spanish Springs in March.

Runners participated in the Running of the Squares for a variety of reasons. Former NYC marathoner and current MVP instructor Donna Cacciatore enjoys running these events.

Donna Cacciatore, right, with fellow MVP employee and Village of Amelia neighbor Holly Stuetzle.

“Now I just run for fun. I enjoy seeing my neighbors and students,” said Cacciatore, who currently teaches 13 classes at MVP. “I like to show my students it is important to just keep moving.”

Jean Becker

Seventy-three-year old Jean Becker is new to running or jogging as she describes it.

“My son was here last year and ran at Spanish Springs. He inspired me to give it a try,” said Becker.

Although she had never been a runner or done anything really athletic, “I just felt I ought to start doing something.”

She started jogging and ran in the Brownwood event.

“I did it in about 50 minutes,” said Becker.

She now runs three miles almost every day and is looking forward to participating in the Spanish Springs event with her son.

“I feel better. My legs feel better, I had two knee replacements 10 years ago and my legs are firmer,” she said.

The Silver Rockettes, a performance dance team, walked the event last year and decided they had so much fun they would make it an annual event.

Silver Rocketes, from left, Debbie Woodrow, Georgette Getz, Barbara Tatten, Donna Dagostino, Dyrinda Cole, Nancy Urch, Ronee Jacobson and Bernadette Buatti

A partnership between New Covenant United Methodist Church and Wildwood schools brought a group of middle and high schoolers to the event. Wildwood began rebuilding the cross country portion of their track program after a 10-year absence.

Jaquan McCants, Terriyon Bryant, Sharef Jackson and Joseph Poyser with coaches Djuan Graham and Nick Goff.

“New Covenant has been very supportive of our program,” said Wildwood track coach Djuan Graham. 

First across the finish line was Jim Thompson, also winner of the Brownwood run, with a time of 18:26, followed closely by twelve year old Tavares middle schooler Riley Novack. After they crossed the finish line Thompson shook Novack’s hand.

Jim Thompson and Riley Novack

“He is an amazing young athlete with a good attitude. I see state championships in his future-if that’s what he wants, as long as he is having fun and enjoying it.” Thompson said. “This young man is a wonderful example of why we are doing this.”

In the women’s category, an out-of-town visitor crossed the finish line first. High school freshman Elizabeth Leitzel from Indiana is visiting her grandparents Villagers Alex and Marie Choo. She runs cross country at school and finished with a time of 21:35. Mulberry resident Terri Bower was second with a time 21:52. Leitzel said her parents told her about the run and she decided to give it a try. “At first I was nervous because I saw her shirt and knew she did the Ironman,” said Lietzel, referring to Terri Bower.

Elizabeth Leitzel, left, and Terri Bower

“I think we really spurred each other on,” said Bower. Like Thompson’s assessment of Novack, Bower said she could see a great running career for Leitzel.

The final 5K in the 2017-2018 Running of the Square series is March 31. For more information go to

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