In Harpers Ferry, hilly half marathon gets runners moving

HARPERS FERRY – Behind every runner at a race event, there is a different motivation.

At the Harpers Ferry Half Marathon on May 11 participants laced up for reasons as varied as a wanting a Mother’s Day treat to tackling a lifelong aspiration. Luckily, a little rain didn’t dampen spirits too much as more than 400 racers embarked on either the challenging half marathon, a kinder 4.5-mile course or a 1-mile run for children during the third-annual event.

Starting and ending at River Riders and benefiting Eastern Panhandle Indigo Children and the For Love of Children’s Outdoor Education Center, the event got its start three years ago as a complement to Freedom’s Run, according to Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, co-director of both.

Freedom’s Run, a marathon that includes a number of related events, began with the goal to “spark cultural change, re-attach children and families to nature and heritage, and produce mentors who will spread the themes deeper into each community,” according to its website, freedomsrun.org.

The hilly Harpers Ferry Half Marathon on May 11 offered runners plenty of challenges.

The hilly Harpers Ferry Half Marathon on May 11 offered runners plenty of challenges.

For Cucuzzella, a nationally ranked marathoner and family physician, it all boils down to promoting health, particularly for West Virginia, which has a reputation as an unhealthy state, he said.

For Chanda Wright, a 52-year-old Bolivar resident, completing the 4-mile course was a victory she’s dreamed of all her life.

“I’ve always wanted to run in a race, but never thought I could,” Wright said.

She started a “couch to 5K” program six weeks ago through Cucuzzella’s Two Rivers Treads shoe store in Shepherdstown.

“It’s awesome,” the two-time cancer survivor said. “It’s medication.”

Trainer Rebecca Carper called Wright a “true success story.”

“She has battled so many other things,” Carper said.

After finishing, Wright joined other runners for music and pizza at River Riders.

As they refueled after the race, runners of the half marathon praised the course.

Valerie Storer of Winchester, Va., ran the race with her daughter for Mother’s Day. Between the wet grass, river views and steep climbs on the course, she said she was “never bored.”

“It was great, really,” she said. “What a challenge.”

Todd McKinney, director of For Love of Children and a co-director of the half, said Cucuzzella developed the course after running daily through Harpers Ferry when he worked in the clinic there.

Harpers Ferry is a favorite place in the county for runners, he said, and the course draws athletes from all over the country, but the focus is on health, organizers say.

“It’s about getting family outside,” Cucuzzella said. “There’s just a real big sense of community.”

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