Janet Akers had a plan.
“Any yard with no fence, cut through it,” she joked to her pals Saturday morning as they waited for the Run Before the Class of ‘09 Walks mile and 5K races at North County Middle School in Desloge.
The air was bitter cold and the crowd was small, but Akers and her friends Mandy Pettus and Ashley Martin, accompanied by Pettus’ 9-year-old son Dylan, were upbeat and quick to crack a joke. The three bus drivers, who team up as “The North County School Bus Drivers,” try to walk in as many area fundraising “races” as possible. Other than that, they said, exercise is taboo.
“I whine when I have to walk from the car to the bus,” said Akers, who is recovering from an automobile accident in November that left her with a plate and seven screws in her leg.
“We did go to the gym for a while,” Martin said.
Another friend chimed in. “That’s just because you wanted the hot tub,” Sheree Faenger teased. “We could have bought a hot tub for the money we spent to join the gym.”
The annual one-mile walk and 5K race was called the “Run Before You Walk” event for its first three years, and it served as a fundraiser for the local Heart Association. When the Association disbanded, event organizers Tracy Burns, Joy Thurston, Michelle Smith and Pete Selzer decided to continue the annual event, to benefit a different organization each year.
“It was a lot of work to get this organized,” Burns said. “We didn’t want to let it fall apart.”
This year, proceeds go to North County’s Project Graduation. Burns, the mother of a senior, thought it would be a good opportunity to help the Class of ‘09 raise money for Senior Week and graduation activities.
“We’re doing several fundraisers to meet our Project Graduation goal of $25,000,” committee member Lisa Gibson said. “That would cover our three senior day trips and the alcohol-and drug-free event after graduation.”
Seniors are going in teams to businesses to request donations for Project Graduation. They are planning trips to Six Flags, Pine Crest Camp and possibly a Cardinals’ game.
Immediately after graduation, seniors will be taken to an undisclosed location in St. Louis. The facility will offer food, games, bumper cars, bowling, movies, black light golf and other activities until 5 o’clock the following morning.
Other fundraisers scheduled or being planned this spring include a skeet shooting tournament March 28 at Leadbelt Gun Club, Trivia Night that evening at North County High School, and (tentatively) a Donkey Basketball game between high school staff and students on April 25. To donate or for more information on Project Graduation, call 573-915-0055.
On Saturday, registration began at 9 a.m., with the one-mile walk/run scheduled for 10 a.m., followed by the 5K race. Runners donned knit hats or headbands that covered their ears. Participants wore T-shirts with the name of the sponsors — ABC/123 Day Care, North County Educational Center, Willette Home Furnishing, American Legion Post 39, Free Spirit Trucking, Kings Construction, Marler’s Towing and Waterworks — on the back. Most were dressed in sweat shirts and sweat pants to protect them from the cold, but a few hardy runners were in shorts.
“It’s hard to run in pants,” explained Corey Pratte, a member of the North County High School track and cross country teams.
One participant dressed in a full fur coat. Five-month-old Allie, a lab/great Pyrenees mix, did not seem to notice the brisk air or the snowflakes that occasionally dropped from the sky.
“This is her first race,” said owner Angie Pratte. “We walk every chance we get. She was very timid when I first got her, so I take her out among people whenever I can.”
Weather has been poor all four years, Burns said.
“We’ve had snow, sleet and rain,” she explained. “I think people were waiting to see what the weather would do.”
Turnout was disappointing; only 35 participants registered. Burns said they might hold a second race in better weather.
If they do, “The School Bus Drivers” are bound to be there. Undaunted by the weather, they arrived back at the school at the end of the walk, finish-place number cards in hands, whooping to announce their arrival.
Did they cut across those lawns? No. They stayed on track, even when two others went the wrong way. In the end, it was all about doing the right thing, not about winning the race.
“Someone pointed them in the wrong direction when they were in front of us, Martin said of the two runners. “We gave them our first two cards because they should have finished before us.”
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.