‘I just want to keep it going’
The Woodsfield Run for Kids Charity Run, held for the 42nd year Saturday, Oct. 5 in Woodsfield, stayed true to its origins as a charity race.
In the earliest years, the route ran from Woods-field to Pittsburgh. After many years at the Monroe County airport, when the event lasted a full 24 hours, it moved to downtown Woodsfield and was shortened to 12 hours. Last year, in recognition that age and injury have slowed even the most stalwart runners, the event was again shortened to eight hours.
But for Charlie Kozlesky, the event still symbolizes endurance, the kind that stretches beyond the day toward an even more noble goal.
He wants to break through the $1 million ceiling in raising money for children’s hospitals.
“I’m old, but we’re up over $900,000 for kids,” Kozlesky, who began the fundraiser while he was teaching school in Woods-field, reflected on how he has been motivated by others’ commitment to the cause.
“I moved out of Woods-field 26 years ago,” Kozlesky continued, “and the people of Woodsfield still put this race on, still do everything they do for the run. It’s just makes me cry thinking about what they have done.”
There is no losing sight of the overarching mission of helping kids.
Ruta Mazelis, who holds the women’s record for distance at 102 miles, told how friendly challenges with one another can increase a runner’s donations.
“You try to figure out what distance would be their breaking point,” said Mazelis, “and you make a side-bet for just over that. Then you watch them (wear themselves out) trying to beat it.”
For example, if Mazelis thinks a fellow runner could reach 50 miles, she might bet $300 that he or she cannot go 52 miles. Whoever wins, gets the donation. One year, she recalled, she paid $200 to Kozlesky’s charity. Then, a couple years later, he paid $375 to hers.
Either way, a charity that helps children with medical needs has benefited.
In a roundabout way, Marilyn Sanders, of Buffalo, New York, got her husband Dick involved in the run some 38 years ago.
“My husband’s been running for years,” Sanders explained. “When I started dating him, I said, ‘You’re running all these miles, why don’t you do it for a reason?’” Like several others, they learned about Charlie’s Run in a magazine for endurance runners.
The Sanders donate their charity run funds to the laboratory at the Oishei Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, in honor of a cousin with phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder, who uses the lab’s blood testing services.
Throughout the day, runners passed through the Woodsfield Municipal Building parking lot as they made each lap of the race. Passing by the logistics trailer, each would call out his or her number to Pandora Neuhart and Linda Masters, who were tracking each one-mile lap. A white board with hourly totals sat propped against the trailer.
Dale Brewer, of Springfield, Ohio, ran the nearby refreshment station while his wife, Ruth, walked the race. In addition to the snacks, pizza and assorted beverages at the station, support teams brought local restaurant meals for the runners.
“I used to run,” said Brewer, who for health reasons has since switched to bicycling. “I got started when it was raining every year, and I wasn’t prepared for a 24-hour event.”
Brewer spoke with sense of nostalgia for the challenge of those early days,
“I could have won it if I had just kept going,” Brewer continued. “But it was so cold, and I had reached my personal goal of 100 miles.”
With just eight hours to run, the distance totals are smaller now, but the runners’ dedication to the cause hasn’t wavered.
Mitch Toto, of Adena, has been involved with the run since the beginning.
“He was the one who helped me get to Pittsburgh,” Kozlensky recalled. “On one of our first runs, I was shot (by the time I reached) Washington. He was there. He’s 15 years older than I am. He looked at me and says, ‘You can get yourself out of here and run with me into Pittsburgh, or you can stay in there and watch me run to Pittsburgh.’ He’s just motivational. Just seeing him, and seeing what he does.”
When Toto was 75, he logged 50 miles during the 12-hour run. Now, at 82, he allowed himself a few breathers during the day, resting with his wife, Nancy, and visiting with the other support teams. He still logged 21 miles.
Laurie Zerger, of Salisbury, North Carolina, was here to support John Zerger, her husband and eventual winner with 41 miles.
“John and I’ve lost track, but it’s been on and off for 20 years,” Zerger said of their participation history. “We try to come every year. It’s a seven-hour drive, but it’s a great cause. It’s always a good vibe.”
With new runners signing up, Kozlensky is hopeful that the run will continue.
“The people here are fantastic,” he said. “I just want to keep it going. Hopefully I can make it happen and we can get to 50 years. As long as people like Pandora (Neuhart) and Marilyn and Dick (Sanders), Ruta (Mazelis) and others keep on coming back.”
Fourteen people took part in the event, running a total of 313 miles. Lori Michener was the women’s distance winner, with 32 miles. Kozlensky tied with for third with two other people, Chris Benedict, of Woodsfield, and Kreg Robinson, of Clarington.