The first line of participants head out for the MADD 5K Dash on Indian Rocks Beach.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – With just half an hour to go before the race was to begin, the registration lines were long and organizers hoped they would not have to delay the 6:30 p.m. start.
It turned out they didn’t have to, as the third annual Walk Like MADD run/walk on Indian Rocks Beach began as scheduled.
“More numbers mean more awareness,” said MADD’s Florida Program Manager Sharon Hall. “This is going really well and we’re pleased. From what I can see there are more people here this year than last.”
The event took place on Oct. 4. The crowd gathered on the beach well before race time just to soak up the ambience and explore the various displays and vendors on hand.
One group of teenagers from Clearwater’s St. James AME Church was having fun teasing each other about the race ahead. Kenneth Donaldson, 17, planned to walk the 5K distance. This was his second year at the event and he was enjoying it.
“This is a good experience,” he said. “It is a good cause, but I’m walking, not running.”
That remark brought laughter from Dylan Adams, 13, who was standing nearby. Adams planned to run the 5K and didn’t mind rubbing it in.
“They can run, I know they can,” he said. “It is lame that they are walking, I wouldn’t say lazy, but it is lame.”
With that, Donaldson and his friends chased Adams good-naturedly down the beach; interview over.
Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Cookie Kennedy spoke on behalf of the city and welcomed the participants.
“We are proud to be part of this event and we thank you for raising money for MADD,” she said. “Drinking and driving is a violent crime and we have to stop underage drinking. We can’t do it without all of you. We hope we can do this for a long time to come. Remember this is not a disease, it is not an illness, it is a 100 percent preventable crime.”
Attorney Tom Carey, who has been an active member of MADD for more than 30 years, shared his passion with the crowd.
“My wife was killed by a drunk driver 30 years ago and that’s why I’m here,” he said. “The instances of drunk driving have been reduced greatly but there is no end to the fight. This is the leading killer of young people in this country.”
There was no shortage of young people out that evening to help raise money and awareness for the cause. Among the notables were Lesa Phillips who raised $550 from people who supported her run, and Emely Reyes who raised $1,070 from those who sponsored her walk in the event. Clearwater police raised the most money among the law enforcement agencies; their $2,305 gives them bragging rights for the next year.
Then it was race time. With the cheerleaders from Osceola High School leading them on, the hundreds of participants set out to run and walk the 5K distance. Roughly 20 minutes later, Dan Bergeson, 48, of Oldsmar was the first runner to complete the course. It was his first time participating in the MADD run.
“It was a good run. The sand was nice and hard so it wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I’ll definitely be back next year. It’s for such a good cause.”
Then, as if he hadn’t had enough, Bergeson joined a group of friends who were walking and still had more than half the course to cover. He wanted to walk with them.
A few minutes later Halle Ammons, 24, crossed the finish line. She was the first woman to complete the course and she was obviously happy about it.
“I’m happy with my run, this is the first time I’ve even been first to finish,” she said. “This is a great cause and that’s a benefit for getting to run.”
Ammons said she and her husband, Tim, run in a race every weekend. They live in Tampa and she said they would both be back next year.
The cause Bergeson and Ammons spoke of is for MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an organization with a goal to eliminate drunk driving altogether. Californian Candice Lightner formed MADD in 1980. A drunk driver killed her 13-year-old daughter.
Hall said the numbers are staggering.
“Last year 9,878 people were killed as the result of drunk driving,” she said. “Every one of those people was a friend or a spouse or a child of somebody. One in three people will be affected in their lifetime by a drunk driver.”
Despite those numbers, Hall says there is hope.
“This is the first time ever the number of people killed as the result of drunk driving is under 10,000 so we know we are making an impact,” she said. “Whenever we get discouraged or question our work we remember that if we make an impact on just one person when we speak or conduct a program we know we are making a difference.”
Hall said it is important that parents talk to their kids about drunk driving. She said there is evidence to show that parents who communicate with their children have kids who tend to drink less often and less heavily.
Hall added that the more successful they are in achieving their goal the less likely they would be needed.
“We laughingly say we hope to be out of a job someday and we mean it,” she said. “I hope someday I won’t have a job because there won’t be any drunk driving anymore.”