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A 2-year-old boy knelt on the grass near the finish line of Friday night’s Kids Fun Run in Mill Race Park. He proudly raised his left arm to show off the medal he had just received after completing, in red Spider-Man shoes, a half-kilometer run/walk.
His mother, Uma Vajapeyazula, beamed as she captured the image of her son, Arjun, on her camera.
That scene was repeated in hundreds of variations after the race Friday night, as more than 1,000 children engaged in physical fitness and community building.
Nearly 800 had preregistered, but hundreds more signed up on race night, worrying organizers that they might run out of the 1,200 numbered bibs they had prepared.
With sunshine and blue skies overhead, thousands of children, parents and grandparents streamed into the park to partake in the kickoff event of today’s inaugural Mill Race Marathon.
Some parents navigated the crowd with strollers, some with dogs and others held hands with their children to make sure they would get them to the starting point on time.
Kids of kindergarten age and younger “raced” first and were visibly bursting with excitement at all the attention they received from spectators around the starting area.
Their excitement produced two false starts. While organizers managed to stop them after the first one, the children would not be deterred when they took off for the second time before the horn signaled the official start to the race.
Older age groups followed soon after, and some clearly gave it a strong effort. They arrived at the finish line with flushed faces and out of breath, as parents welcomed them with applause, cheers and homemade signs.
Just beyond the finish line, each child received a medal, a cup of water and a banana, lined up and stocked by some of the roughly 60 volunteers who staffed the event.
Parents, kids, organizers and Mayor Kristen Brown said they were impressed with the event and turnout.
Vajapeyazula said she and her husband, Phani, are signed up to run the 5K today and were elated when they could sign up Arjun, who will turn 3 on Monday, to participate in the Kids Fun run.
“He’s crazy about running,” she said.
Vajapeyazula said she also thought the run presented a good opportunity to introduce Arjun to sports.
“We want him to get familiar with sports,” she said, as Arjun’s grandparents, of India, stood nearby.
Columbus is a great city for raising kids, Vajapeyazula said.
“I love the Columbus community,” she said.
First-grader Bryce Olson and Ashlynn Waddle, 8, answered without hesitation what their favorite part of the evening was: “Running,” they said simply.
For Bryce’s parents, Stephanie and Kyle Olson, the race also offered a chance for their son, who plays soccer at Southside Elementary School, to exercise.
“He wanted to be a part of it,” Stephanie Olson said.
Ashlynn’s mother, Cindy Waddle, called event
“It’s definitely teaching our kids about health and community,” she said. “Both of those are important.”
Brown and Randy Stafford, one of the marathon weekend’s organizers, said they were overwhelmed by the turnout.
“The whole event is way above what I expected,” Stafford said.
Brown said, “The turnout … speaks volumes about the community’s commitment … that our kids’ health is a top priority.”
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