Health and History Join Forces in Marathon

Strategy: Serve Local Community

Type of attraction: Main Street/Community

Summary: Happenstance is defined as something good happening by chance, and the word certainly describes Freedom’s Run, a marathon that combines the goals of encouraging health & fitness and appreciating the rich heritage of the Shepherdstown, WV, region.

Happenstance is defined as something good happening by chance, and the word certainly describes Freedom’s Run, a marathon that combines the goals of encouraging health and fitness and appreciating the rich heritage of the Shepherdstown, West Virginia, region.

The idea for the event was sparked in a December 2008 visit between community activist Lois Turco and family practice physician Dr. Mark Cucuzzella. Encountering Cucuzzella while in downtown Shepherdstown Christmas shopping, Turco shared an update on her work to obtain National Heritage Area designation for the region.

Cucuzzella – a marathon runner – talked about his Healthy Kids/Healthy Communities project and “Children In Nature” national initiative that he partnered with nearby Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. In addition, he shared that he had recently run the JFK 50 mile (the largest and oldest ultra-marathon in the country) on the C&O Canal and ran past Shepherdstown, yet no one in the Shepherdstown area knew of the race.

“We looked at each other and said ‘Why don’t we put on a marathon here?’” Turco says.

“It was an unlikely partnership between two groups who had never partnered before, so we started from scratch,” Turco says. They quickly found solid support for the idea and obtained permission from the National Park Service to plan the route through four national parks – Harper’s Ferry, C&O Canal, Antietam National Battlefield, and the Potomac Heritage Trail – and from towns along the route.

They also recruited a seven-person committee to organize the race. Organizers planned the event to include a full marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and Kids Run.

In planning the race, Turco wanted to ensure that the message of the region’s history was communicated. “It is an interesting story of settlement, George Washington surveying the area when he was a young man, the French and Indian War, the Civil War and more,” Turco says.

To share these stories, Turco created a history section on the website (www.freedomsrun.org) with information on the historical sites that marathoners would be running or walking past, and integrated the historical information with a map of the marathon route.

“We also got a grant from the West Virginia Office of Tourism to help with promotions and got local and national sponsorships,” Turco says. “Shepherd University, located in Shepherdstown, has been our largest in-kind sponsor with volunteer help, Wellness Center support and finish line at their stadium.”

Although support from the community was strong, there were people who said “show me” that it will be a success and will help the economy, Turco says.

And succeed they did. The first marathon was held in October 2009 and drew over 1,500 participants from across the country. Hotels in the area were filled with many offering discount rates. Organizers also teamed with the nearby Hagerstown, Maryland Convention and Visitors Bureau on promotions to generate a regional impact.

“We actually made money,” Turco says. Some of the proceeds have been used to obtain grants to build walking trails around schools in Jefferson County and to build a website focusing on the proposed National Heritage Area.

The race even resulted in two new businesses in downtown Shepherdstown – a natural running and walking center owned by race director Cucuzzella called Two Rivers Treads; and a coffee roastery whose owners relocated to Shepherdstown as a direct result of participating in the event. The store contributes 10 percent of the store’s sales to support the area’s heritage preservation and health activities.

With this success, the marathon is established as an annual event. In 2010, 1,700 runners had already registered and the 10K, 5K, and Kids Run were filling up several months before the race. The race was slated to be the largest in the state in 2010. Sponsors have renewed and new sponsors have signed up. Title sponsors are WVU Hospitals-East and WVU Health Sciences Center-Eastern Division.

“A lot of people are helping now because they love what we are doing,” Turco says. “That is our sustainability in the long run. The concept is that partnering can bring positive results in generating money, but that is not the only goal. Our goal is to make people in the region appreciate, treasure and conserve our land and heritage.”

For more information visit www.freedomsrun.org or www.tworiversheritage.org; contact Lois Turco, lturco@frontiernet.net, 304-876-9141.