SEBRING - Nearly 50 runners braved dense fog and the occasional drizzle Saturday morning to benefit disadvantage seniors of Highlands County at the NU-HOPE Elder Care Services Super Bowl 5k Run/Walk.
The event was held at Highlands Hammock State Park and runners represented a wide range of ages. There were some as young as preschool and others in their mid-80s that came out to support the cause.
"NU-HOPE has been in the community since 1975," said NU-HOPE representative and race coordinator Laurie Murphy. "We're a non-profit, and our goal is to provide services so that seniors can stay at home and not have to go to an institution for the care that they need."
At Saturday's race, youngster Noah Nagy edged his mom, Jennifer Sawnick, by one second in the one mile fun run. Nagy finished in an impressive 12 minutes, 35 seconds to Sawnick's 12:36. Barbara Keselring placed third in 49:45.
Primarily a grant-funded group, NU-HOPE still holds fundraisers throughout the year in an attempt to fully cover the costs of needy seniors.
"We usually need to raise about $300,000 a year to add to the grants," Murphy said. "And even then, it still leaves people on a waiting list, which is heartbreaking."
The group's expense are largely due to the number of services they provide.
"We do a number of in-home, non-medical services, including bathing, cooking, home-making, and so on," Murphy said. "But we also do long-term services for those with chronic needs as well as some emergency services, like when someone needs their electric bill paid."
Scotty Meeks breezed into first place in the 5k event, securing first place with a blistering 23:51. Katie Stoll placed second in 24:53 and William Edgar was third at 26:28. Jacob McCleelland followed Edgar at 28:58 and Kelly Marshall rounded out the top five with a time of 29:56.
Along with the 5k events, NU-HOPE has other ways to raise funds. They also have thrift stores around the county that benefit seniors. But the goal isn't always to raise money.
"A lot of what we do is to raise awareness," Murphy said. "We had a wide range of ages out here, including people in their 80s. That's pretty inspiring."
Sandy Meeks finished in sixth place, galloping in at 30:25. Leesa Skipper edged Rod Matthews for seventh place, coming in at 30:30 to Matthews 30:31.
Peggy Essex-Klammer finished ninth at 32:22 and Chris Capuano capped the top 10 at 32:40.
NU-HOPE tries to help seniors in need even when it has trouble offering the right assistance.
"We have expanded from being primarily just a volunteer group," Murphy said. "We're a full-fledged organization that can offer comprehensive services. But when we can't do it, we try to network and see which group can offer the right assistance."
Martie Brooker finished 11th in 33:13 and Kimber Harris was 12th at 33:23. Vickie Hicks finished 13th at 34:49 while Bill Warren was 14th at 35:30 and Dawn Allen was 15th in 36:48. Arguably the most impressive time came from 3 year old Lyla Marshall, who capped the top 25 with a stellar time of 40:16.
Saturday's 5k was likely the last fundraiser race of the year for NU-HOPE. But the organization will be holding its annual Sandy Foster Memorial golf tournament on April 19 at Pinecrest Golf Club in Avon Park.
For more information on NU-HOPE, contact Murphy by phone at 382-2134 or via email at email@example.com.