Land O’ Lakes and Lutz well represented
By Kyle LoJacono
The 25th annual Lutz Independence Day 5K and one-mile run had all its traditional elements with one addition.
“For the first time we decided to give out awards to the top boys and girls runners in different age divisions in the one-mile run,” said race director Terry Donovan. “That’s awards for the runners 8 and under and then one for each age from 9 to 14-years-old.”
The top girl was Emily Lawrence, 9, who finished with a time of 8:10.
“I did the one-mile two years ago and the 5K (kilometers) last year,” Lawrence said. “… I like this race because there is a lot of shade and has all the houses so close.”
Donovan said he started the multiple one-mile winners to encourage more children to participate.
“We want kids to start running instead of playing Xbox,” Donovan said. “We had a good turnout. Normally we have 20 or 30 kids running and we had more than 50 (this year).”
Combined runners for the one-mile and 5K totaled about 400, up from the less than 350 that participated last year. The 5K and one-mile races take runners along W. Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Crooked Lane.
Max del Monte, 16, won the race in 16:23 and has run the race three years in a row.
“This is a good race to tune up for the high school cross country season,” del Monte said. “It’s also a very friendly kind of race. It’s a fast track without a lot of pressure.”
The first-place woman in the 5K was Jacki Wachtel, who finished in 17:25.
Land O’ Lakes resident Maryellen Holbrook has competed in at least 10 of the events.
“It’s such a fun and relaxing race,” Holbrook said. “I mean it’s like running in your own backyard with the houses so close on both sides of the road.”
The Land O’ Lakes Road Runners, a group that runs in the neighborhoods along Collier Parkway, were also represented at the race.
“It’s a really fun day that gets started with the run,” said Road Runner Lou Menendez, who has competed in the race about 10 times. “The race is done early and then you’ve got the parade and everything else. It’s just a great small-town event that I wouldn’t miss.”
The 5K also had three wheelchair racers, including Shakiel Babb-Jackmon of Barbados.
Another adapted athlete who ran in the 5K was Robyn Stawski, of north Hillsborough County. Just a week before the event she needed braces to walk.
Stawski was competing in the race as part of Joey’s Challenge, which is a group that challenges physical disabled people to try such difficult activities as 5K races. The program started in 2005 and also raises money to buy equipment so adapted athletes can compete.
The group was inspired by 14-year-old Joey Chiavaroli, who has spina bifida. Chiavaroli was one of the wheelchair races this year.
Joey’s Challenge is currently raising money so Stawski, who has cerebral palsy, can buy a chair to compete in the shot put in the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. She also competed in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
Stawski got a little lost along the path and went much further than the planned 5 kilometers, but she still crossed the finish line.
“Robyn started to follow the procession for the police officers who were killed,” said Charlie Reece. “That is going on just up the road at Idlewild … The important thing is she finished the race.”
Stawski crossed the finish line during the Lutz parade, which follows the races.
Donovan was pleased to have so many racers of different running backgrounds participate in the event this year.
“We didn’t have any wheelchair racers last year and this year we had three,” Donovan said. “It’s great to see so many people coming out and running with us in the 25th race … I didn’t think it would last this long when we had the first one in 1985. It’s just grown and I like to think it’s something people look forward to each year.”