By Kevin Kelley
A noncompetitive one-mile walk for individuals 65 and older has been added to this year’s North Coast Challenge, which takes place Saturday on the grounds of St. John Medical Center in Westlake.
The walk for seniors joins the kids fun run, the competitive 3.4-mile walk and the road race, which organizers bill as “Ohio’s premier five-mile race.”
Called the One-Mile Silver Sneakers Walk, the 65-and-over event takes its name after the program in which health plans offer fitness center memberships to older adults to encourage independence and healthy lifestyles.
“To my knowledge, North Coast Challenge is the first event in the area or anywhere that will have a separate walk for folks that are 65 years and older,” said Dave Camerino, the race and course director of North Coast Challenge. “This age range is a growing part of our population, and one that wants to stay healthy and exercise.”
The cost to participate in the Silver Seniors Walk is $10. Camerino anticipates many seniors will sign up the morning of the event. The senior walk, which will begin at 8:30 a.m., will not be timed, and no prizes will be awarded for the top finishers.
North Coast Challenge’s competitive walk switches back to the 3.4-mile length after having been reduced to two miles last year.
“There seemed to be more interest from the serious walkers to go back to the longer distance,” Camerino said of the change in distance. “Last year we thought the shorter distance would get more participants. It did not.”
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, who won the two-mile event last year, said he will again compete in the walk despite the increase in distance. He has competed in either the race or the walk in all 23 years North Coast Challenge, originally called Celebrate Westlake, has been held.
Prize money for the winners of the five-mile race is $750 to the overall male and female winners, $400 for second, $300 for third. A $1,000 bonus prize goes to a winner who beats the male and female course records, currently held by Kenyan John Itaiti (22:53, set in 2007) and Russian Lyudmila Bikatasheve (26:12, set in 2006).
Last year, Mourad Marofit, a 30-year-old Moroccan who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, was the top male finisher. Jessica Kuhr, of Kirtland, was the top female finisher with a time of 27:04.78. She finished eighth overall.
The five-mile course is the same as it was last year, with the start and finish lines on Center Ridge Road near the hospital. Runners head west, turn south on Bradley Road, northeast on Bailus Road through the Bradley Woods Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, then back east on Center Ridge to the finish line.
Runners have said they enjoy the scenic, shady pass through the Metroparks, as well as the flatness of the entire course, Camerino said.
The competitive walk and run also begin at 8:30 a.m., with the awards ceremony slated to begin at 10:10 a.m. The kids fun run starts at 9:45 a.m. on the hospital’s fitness trail and consists of three age divisions: 10- to 12-year-olds, who will run one mile; 7- to 9-year-olds, who will run a half-mile; and 6 and younger, who will also run a half-mile.
An associated health and fitness expo, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m., includes local merchants and vendors displaying the latest in health and wellness products. In addition, members of the St. John Medical Center community outreach department will be on hand to provide free blood pressure readings and health-related information.
Proceeds from the event benefit many local charities, including D.A.R.E., St. John Medical Center’s community outreach programs, Youth Challenge, Westlake Porter Public Library, the Far West Center, Westlake Recreation Center, YMCA, Early Childhood PTA and Kiwanis.
Participants can register online through Thursday. Once online registration is closed, individuals may register at the Westlake Recreation Center from noon to 6 p.m. Friday, or the morning of the race at St. John Medical Center. For registration fees and other information, visit North Coast Challenge’s website at www.northcoastchallenge.com.