Not many people can claim to see a penguin strolling around Connecticut on a hot spring day.
Not only have I seen it, I've lived it...and I'm about to live it again.
For the second consecutive year, I will be the penguin mascot for Oxford’s Kids’ Rock Hopper Fun Run on Memorial Day. The Fun Run is part of a road race sponsored by Oxford Parks and Recreation: the third-annual . The entire event benefits local veterans.
At first, the connection between running and penguins may be unclear. It certainly seemed like a stretch when the Oxford Freedom Run Committee first approached me last year. Committee member Fran Teodosio, Oxford's town attorney, offered this explanation: Sleek, fast runners are often associated with birds like the road runner. In contrast, the average runner is more like a penguin. By incorporating a penguin, the committee hoped to appeal to runners of all fitness levels. Plus, rock hopper penguins easily maneuver on rocks so in a hilly town like Oxford, it was fitting to choose one as a mascot.
All I would have to do is lead children on a half-mile course from Town Hall to Center School and back. Yet I was hesitant. If average runners were penguins, then I was an egg. I told the committee that I didn’t run. Ever. The simple idea of racing lively youngsters for a half-mile was enough to make me gasp for breath – add a black foam penguin suit on a hot spring day, and I already felt like collapsing.
Fortunately, the committee supplied me with a John Deere Gator cart to ride. I sat in the back, enveloped in a tuxedo-bird suit, and waved a happy wing, feeling only slightly goofy.
As the Gator took off, an incredible sight unfolded: Route 67 was filled with children, smiling, running and actually resembling a flock of little penguins. Their energy and spirit truly put the "fun" in the race’s name.
This year promises to be just as exciting. The half-mile course will be the same with one improvement: There will be separate finish lines with timers for children and adults, so Fun Run participants will see their times just as adult runners always have.
Festivities will begin at 8 a.m. on Memorial Day, rain or shine, with a performance of the National Anthem kicking off the Fun Run. After the children’s race, the 5K Freedom Run and 2 Mile Fitness Walk will begin. The USATF-certified course for adults will extend from town hall, down Route 67, to Pleasant Valley Shopping Center and back. (This means Route 67 will be closed along this course during the race. The road will open to let traffic through afterwards, but it will close again for the Memorial Day Parade, which will begin at 11 a.m.)
Both residents and nonresidents of all ages and abilities are invited to participate in the race. The “all abilities” concept should be especially appealing to those who can empathize with my fear of running. The fitness walk is a low-pressure way to enjoy a community event without worrying about fitting in with more competitive athletes. Plus, baby joggers and people in wheelchairs are welcome.
Teenagers and adults can pre-register for the 5K Freedom Run or the 2 Mile Fitness Walk for $20 on Active.com through noon on May 28. Registration will also be possible before 7 a.m. at Town Hall on the day of the race; that day, the cost will be $25. Children who are 12 and younger can register for the Fun Run for $10. Veterans and military personnel participate for free.
Besides the chance to enjoy a healthy run or walk, there are many perks to participating. T-shirts will be distributed to adult pre-registrants and then while supplies last. There will also be activities, prizes and awards for a variety of age categories. Furthermore, Fun Run participants will receive what many would call the best treat in town: Vanilla ice cream donated by in cones donated by Denmo’s. Plus, runners will be able to meet the famous penguin!
The greatest perk of running this race, however, may be less obvious. Race funds will be given to the , which benefits local veterans. Veterans have sacrificed to ensure our safety and freedom so we can enjoy special community events like the Fun Run/Freedom Run/Fitness Walk. This race gives us the perfect opportunity to show them our gratitude and support.
Participants can even personally thank a veteran after the race. Members of the American Legion will join Freedom Run Committee members, the Seymour-Oxford Lions Club, and other volunteers in the effort make the race run smoothly.
Runners are encouraged to continue to honor our veterans after the race by staying for the Memorial Day Parade, which starts at 11 a.m. at Pleasant Valley Shopping Center and ends at Town Hall with a memorial service hosted by the American Legion.
To learn more about supporting our veterans by running in the road race, visit active.com or call Oxford Parks and Recreation at 203-888-2543.