Race will donate more than $26,000 to help Rainsville teen Savannah Willingham
By Joseph M. Morgan
RAINSVILLE, Ala. — Last Saturday, the city of Rainsville hosted the 7th annual Freedom Fest Run, a 5K/10K fundraiser that is the official kickoff to the city of Rainsville’s annual Freedom Fest held the weekend following the race each year. The race kicked of this year's Freedom Fest with a bang.
More than 850 participants turned out this year from all over the Southeast to compete in the 5K/10K race to raise money for local non-profits, but the largest fundraising emphasis this year was focused on helping Savannah Willingham, a Rainsville teen who was injured in a tragic car accident earlier this year.
“We had 850 participants this year, up from the 625 that took part in the race last year,”race organizer Jerry Clifton said. “People came from all over the Southeast and beyond—from Bowling Green, Kentucky; to Hilton Head, South Carolina; to Jacksonville, Florida; to Starkville, Mississippi; from Nashville, Atlanta, Chattanooga. In-state we had people from Birmingham, Hoover, Vestavia, Mobile, Montgomery. And locally, of course we had competitors from every community in DeKalb County, but also good participation or representation from almost every major community within 150-mile radius. It was just a tremendous turnout.
At the end of the day, the race raised over $30,000. The first $6,000 will be presented to local charities. The remainder—more than $26,000—will go Savannah Willingham and family to aid in paying medical bills and help in what will be a long road to recovery.
“About $6,000 will go to local charities that I had already committed to before Savannah’s injury,” Clifton said. “The remainder, over $26,000 will go to Savannah as she continues her recovery.”
The 2016 Overall Freedom Fest Run Winners were:
Overall Female 5K Winner — Erica Speegle of Birmingham, Ala. with a time of 16.44 (16 min, 44 sec)
Overall Male 5K Winner — Matthew Dunn of Decatur, Ala. with a time of 15.33 (15 min, 33 sec)
Overall Female 10K Winner—Marion Cherop of Bowling Green, Ky. with a time of 36.43 (36 min, 43 sec)
Overall Male 10K Winner—Patrick Cheptoek of Bowling Green, Ky. with a time of 30.47 (30 min, 47 sec)
Clifton said the event, now in its seventh year has grown considerably each year in size, scope and caliber since the first year when 175 area participants took part in the race. The race draws in serious runners, talented amateurs and even some competitors who travel the country year round and compete as professionals or semi-professionals. This year's overall 10K (6.2 miles) winner, Patrick Cheptoek set a new Freedom Fest Run record with a very impressive winning race time of 30 minutes and 47 seconds in the 10K men's division.
“After seven years, our race has now turned into more of a regional event in terms of size,” Clifton said. “It’s no longer just a small, local race. You would have to go to a Huntsville or Birmingham event for a race of similar caliber and competition.
Clifton said the success of the race would not have been possible without the generosity of hundreds who volunteered their time, energy and resources to make the event possible.
“We had 125 volunteers from the Rainsville community that helped Saturday morning on the day of the race. Then we had 30-40 volunteers on Friday night helping set up for the race. I want to thank especially the city of Rainsville and all of their services and our entire community that came out to help work and support."
The 2016 Freedom Fest will take place this weekend, Saturday, June 25 at the Rainsville City Park. The all-day event kicks off at 1 p.m. and is an action-entertainment-packed day of fun for the entire family that includes hours of great food, live music, games for the kids and caps off at 9 p.m. with the best fireworks show on Sand Mountain.