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Freedom Run participants are slaves to a good deed

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Annual event benefits Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice

By Stephen Knapp

Bright and early on the Fourth of July, fine Americans from every walk, trot, gallop and dash of life put their feet to the street as Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice kicked off its 33rd annual Freedom Run 5K.

Nearly 800 patriotic pedestrians paced the scenic 3.1-mile route from Evergreen Middle School to Nick’s Pro Fitness, some eager to make time, others content to take it, and all of them happy to commit their Keds to an important mountain-area cause. Alongside sponsors such as Ades Design, New West Physicians, Susan Stearns and Frank O’Loughlin, Allen Technology Advising, Paul D. Regan, DMD and Wells Fargo Advisors, everybody who stepped up for the Freedom Run helped Mount Evans step up for under-insured and uninsured neighbors in need. 

Interestingly, Evergreen native and 2008 Evergreen High School graduate Molly Nydegger was representing Williston, N.D., on the hometown field of honor. 

“I’m in town visiting my parents, and I thought this would be fun,” said Nydegger, wearing bib No. 2161 and part of the colorful crush forming up at 7:30 a.m. on Hiwan Drive. “It’s my first one.”

Molly’s son Tiberius was also a newbie to the course, although in fairness the 2-month-old behind bib No. 805 had only recently become aware of the event, and he planned to tackle it from the cockpit of a sleek racing pram. Like many participants, No. 805 was dedicating his effort to loved ones lost, specifically to the memory of his great-grandparents Norm, Oneta and John.

Cindy Newkirk and her kids, Billy and Anna, were also first-time Freedom Runners, despite the fact the track runs more or less through their backyard.

“We’re not usually here on the Fourth of July,” explained Cindy, No. 2153 and clearly enjoying the starting-line hullabaloo. “As long as we’re here this year, we thought it would be fun to do a run in our own neighborhood.” 

No. 2153 was hoping to get from Point A to Point B without undue strain. Her kids, on the other hand — lean, light and aerodynamic — were getting ready to make a race of it.

“I think I’m going to do fairly well,” purred 12-year-old Billy, No. 2152, relaxed and supremely confident. Anna, 13 (“almost 14!”) and No. 2151, approached the race as a training opportunity.

“I’m going to start cross country in high school this year,” Anna said with a blush of bashful pride.

Everything’s more fun among friends, and teams were a big part of the 2014 Freedom Run. Team Hammond’s, for example, was a sweet squad of seven, collected and clad by Ralph and Judy Nafziger of Hammond’s Candies. The Granato family took to the road once again, a close-knit team united in memory of Frank "Frankie" Granato, and in support of Mount Evans, which did so much to ease Frankie’s passing. 

New to both Evergreen and the Freedom Run, newlyweds Jeff and Chris Moyer co-sported bib No. 2138, presenting a potent team of two and a powerful source of inspiration to everybody on the course. A musician, songwriter and speaker, Jeff’s willingness to donate a kidney several years ago left him at once seriously handicapped and strongly devoted to the home health and hospice cause after the procedure went horribly wrong. He’s been a grateful client and tireless champion of Mount Evans ever since he and Chris settled in Brook Forest, even creating an original CD specifically for the organization’s benefit. On Friday morning, Nos. 2138 prepared to co-captain Jeff’s wheelchair to the most meaningful kind of victory.

At 8 o’clock sharp, Amy Lovin delivered the national anthem in crystal-clear a cappella, and the tide rushed out. A shade over 16 minutes later, bib No. 915 crossed the finish line. But if Bob Weiner ran the event’s quickest race — again — everybody finished a hands-down winner. No. 805, for example, rolled across the finish line in an admirable 38:19, one second ahead of No. 2161. Bib No. 2151 completed the course in 32:04, which is an excellent start on her planned cross-country career, and anyone must agree that her brother, No. 2152, did better than “fairly well” with a time of 25:45. And No. 2138 finished with a triumphant 59:34 — nowhere near the head of the pack, but arguably the best time of the morning. 

For the folks at Mount Evans, the race to meet the physical and emotional needs of neighbors in crisis is never-ending. As far as they’re concerned, everybody who walked, ran, or rolled in support of that essential mission is No. 1.

To learn more about Mount Evans, or to see detailed Freedom Run race results, visit www.mtevans.org.