2013 Neenah Fun Run Series
When: 7 p.m. on June 2, 16 and 30 and July 14 and 28
Where: South pavilion at Memorial Park in Neenah (enter from Appleblossom Drive)
Registration: Organizers encourage participants to sign up online at www.neenahfunrun.com at least 24 hours before a race to avoid registration delays.
NEENAH — When Tom Jensen and fellow running enthusiasts started the Neenah Fun Run Series for children in 1996, they hoped it would serve as a feeder program for the high school cross country and track teams.
Eighteen years later, the program’s role in developing distance runners is incidental. It now focuses on broader goals of promoting healthy lifestyles and strengthening community spirit.
Families, friends and neighbors line the race route to encourage every participant, regardless of when he or she crosses the finish line.
“Those younger children may never become an accomplished distance runner, but that doesn’t make any difference,” Jensen told Post-Crescent Media. “It’s going to have a positive impact on their life at some point down the road. There’s no doubt in my mind at all.”
The 2013 series consists of five races and begins June 2 at Memorial Park. Registration starts at 6 p.m., followed by the first race at 7 p.m. Additional races will be held on June 16 and 30 and July 14 and 28.
The fun runs are open to children ages 14 or younger and draw 400 to 500 participants each night. Neenah runners make up a majority of the participants, but the races also draw runners from Appleton, Kaukauna, Menasha and Oshkosh.
“It’s not like we’re the only thing happening on Sunday night, and we still get numbers like that,” Jensen said.
Runners ages 6 or younger can choose to run a quarter-mile or half-mile race. Runners ages 7 to 9 run a half-mile, and those ages 10 to 14 run a mile.
Participants receive refreshments and a ribbon after each race. Runners who participate in three races receive a T-shirt, and those who participate in all five races receive a medal. Jensen said the first 500 children to check in June 2 will receive a tote bag.
There is no registration fee because sponsors and volunteers cover the cost of the program.
“We have really, really generous sponsors,” Jensen said. “So much of the credit for what has happened over the last 18 years goes to the generosity of the sponsors that we have in our community.”
Volunteer organizer Lee Hillstrom said the series has become so popular that families plan their summers around the races.
“A lot of them come back from cottages or vacations early because the kids really want to be there,” Hillstrom said.
“They enjoy running with the other kids, and there are so many people out there cheering for them. It’s a great thing for them to finish and feel proud and get a ribbon. A lot of them have never gotten any type of award before.”
— Duke Behnke: 920-729-6622, ext. 32, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @DukeBehnke