HARPERS FERRY – Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, the marathoner and fitness advocate who grew up outside Baltimore, has fond childhood memories of this historic town, where he and his family would hike and enjoy the area’s incredible scenery.
This weekend, Freedom’s Run – the race he co-founded in 2009 – will invite thousands from across the nation and beyond to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to experience some of what he fell in love with in the 1970s.
Health and heritage go hand in hand at Freedom’s Run, which unfolds Saturday in Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, according to Cucuzzella, 45, a family physician on staff at West Virginia University Hospitals-East’s Jefferson Memorial Hospital.
The longtime marathoner also is hoping to see more local residents take part in Freedom’s Run.
Registration remains open for the free, one-mile Kids Run and there are a handful of spots remaining in other races, he said. Close to 3,000 participants are expected to take part in some part of Freedom’s Run.
Cucuzzella came up with the idea for Freedom’s Run in late 2008 after bumping into Lois Turco, a longtime advocate for heritage-related tourism in Jefferson County.
The two began to talk about creating an event that would promote both healthy living along with the Eastern Panhandle’s unique history.
Cucuzzella says he’s thrilled with the response – and for the changing perceptions it’s helping to bring about in West Virginia, a state with record numbers of obese adults and other health ills.
He points to a New York City resident set to take part in Freedom’s Run, who will compete with nine other family members from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia.
“We all want to improve our health overall,” Cathy Sharp wrote to Cucuzzella, “while using an event like this to share some family time together. This is a great way to do it!”
To help Panhandle residents get ready to take on Freedom’s Run, Cucuzzella for months has led running clinics at The Wellness Center at City Hospital in Martinsburg – WVU Hospitals-East is one of the race’s major sponsors – as well as at Two Rivers Treads, the popular minimalist running store in downtown Shepherdstown that Cucuzzella opened in 2010.
In his clinics, Cucuzzella focuses on proper form, injury prevention and improving performance for runners at all levels.
Cucuzzella also is hoping to see big crowds come out for the Kids Run, where registration happens from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on the midway outside Shepherd University’s Ram Stadium. The race starts at 11:30 a.m.
Children signed up for the race will be in the running to win a bicycle being raffled off by the German Street shop Pedal and Paddle, Cucuzzella said.
Proceeds from Freedom’s Run are split between Wild and Wonderful Trails for Every Child, which puts in place fitness trails at local schools, and the Washington’s Way West Heritage Alliance, led by Turco and aimed at promoting the area’s history both to visitors and residents.
Freedom’s Run is not only good for boosting health and history. It also helps area businesses, as thousands of runners from the mid-Atlantic and elsewhere come for the weekend, many of them with spouses, offspring and friends. They check into hotels, eat at restaurants and some will make time for detours to shop and pursue other fun.
“The running tourist is a sought-after demographic,” Cucuzzella said.
For more on the race, visit freedomsrun.org or trtreads.org