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West Virginia is often viewed as an unhealthy place to live. Much of this opinion unfortunately comes from real data. We are the #2 most obese state and #50 when it comes to trails. 4 years ago with the help of local partnerships we set out to change that. What is ?normal? today for families? Most get little exercise, they drive everywhere, and activities are for a select group and always tied to outcomes. We set out to give opportunities in a small community by providing teaching, mentoring, opportunities, encouragement, and some nice trails for the setting. The goal was to spark cultural change, reattach children and families to nature and heritage, and produce mentors who will spread the themes deeper into each community.
It all started with Tiger on the Trail promoting non-competitive physical activity using ?nature as the classroom?. In contrast to traditional health/physical education; program participants learned about health, fitness, nature and local history while hiking to and through local National Parks during school hours. Tiger on the Trail and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park partnership has evolved from local grassroots efforts and now involves all the Middle Schools in Jefferson County. In 4 years there has been over 3500 individual student hikes covering 9000 miles of trail.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a leader in the field of experiential, place-based education. In order to provide their unique selection of historical, environmental and wellness-based programs to the widest audience possible, the park wishes to assist regional schools with the cost of field trip transportation through funds raised by Freedom?s Run participants. With nearly 30% of West Virginia?s youth living in poverty, school field trips are essential to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to experience the health and intellectual benefits of spending time in our National Parks, regardless of their family?s financial ability to provide them with these experiences. Through the Jefferson County Middle School Hike Program, the 5th Grade Schoolhouse Ridge program, the yearly Storer College program and many more, Harpers Ferry NHP has been able to reach out to thousands of students in Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle. Funds raised through Freedom?s Run would go directly towards funding transportation for these programs and many others.
With the awareness we needed funds to achieve large goals, Freedom?s Run was born. The idea was to put on an event that gave citizens awareness of healthy living, promote outdoor activity, and in the process discover the rich history of the area- an Event for Health and Heritage. A collaborative group between leads at the Eastern Area Health Education Center, WVU Hospitals East, the National Park Service, Shepherd University, local citizens and businesses, and Two Rivers Heritage Partnership, teamed to create Freedom?s Run. We offer opportunity for all to engage in a new challenge with 5 events- 1 mile kids fun run, 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, and Marathon. The race raises funds for fitness trail building in our local elementary schools and supports initiatives of health and heritage.
With over 2000 participants, Freedom?s Run is the largest running event in West Virginia. 37 states were represented in the inaugural year, 42 states in the 2010, and 43 states in 2011. The event has been awarded 2011 and 2012 Road Runners Club of America Regional Marathon Championship. Over $50,000 has directly gone back to the community and additional grants have been acquired with the assistance we have given.
The Freedom?s Run Team has also created additional events in the community for other non profits and lends large support to a growing number of events. The Eastern Panhandle now hosts over 20 events, all increasing in size. Four years ago there were 3. There are also newly formed youth running clubs using the school based trails.
Shepherdstown has also established a leadership role in the growing field of running medicine and this evolved from Freedom?s Run. As the races became too busy the town needed an event headquarters to help with the daily work and assist new runners in getting healthy. We opened Two Rivers Treads- A Center for Natural Running and Walking in May 2010. Our customers are learning the benefits of good running form, barefoot, and flat footwear. If you run any of the roads or trails in our town, it is tough to spot a traditional running shoe. To spread our health message wider we founded the Natural Running Center, an education portal designed to teach healthier running and promoting more natural footwear.
Our most recent and important development has been the formation of Two Rivers Heritage Partnership – a non-profit with a mission is to raise awareness of the unique historical and natural resources that lie between the Potomac River and the Shenandoah River from the confluence at Harpers Ferry to Winchester VA and Cumberland MD. TRHP will raise funds and awareness through events such as Freedom?s Run and distribute resources back into the community.
Come join us October 13 , participate in an event, and support these worthy causes.
Mark Cucuzzella MD
Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine
Race Director Freedom?s Run and Harper?s Ferry Half Marathon
Director Two Rivers Heritage Partnership
Co-Founder Freedom?s Run
At the young age of 39, I took on the greatest challenge of my life, an effort that pushed me both mentally and physically like I had never been challenged before. I completed a 3452 mile 100 day run across America, capped off with a 100 mile finish from Annapolis MD to Rehoboth Beach DE in under 24 hours, all to raise awareness and money in support of the men and women I consider my heroes, those that have worn and now wear the US Military’s uniform.
My book, “Freedom Run”, was released in April of 2013, detailing my journey to honor those who have bravely served, and describes the life-changing events of my run across America. MORE>
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