Despite overcast skies and spitting rain, more than 1,200 runners gathered at the foot of the Crown Point courthouse on Saturday morning for the Southlake YMCA’s 38th Annual Hub Run.
“Even though it’s raining, it’s actually great running weather,” Chris Mallers said, self-proclaimed "jogger, not a runner" and executive director of the Southlake YMCA.
“The fact that so many people came out to run and support the event today just goes to show what a great community we have here, both in Crown Point and in the greater Northwest Indiana area,” Mallers said. “It’s also a really great opportunity to raise money so the YMCA can continue to have a positive impact throughout the area.”
Mallers was adamant that, regardless of age or athletic background, the annual Hub Run is an opportunity for anyone to join an active and healthy community lifestyle. Indeed, the morning’s event had a little bit for everyone, including a 5k run through the historic downtown neighborhoods, and a 2k Fun Run for children and those looking for a less strenuous option.
At the same time, funds raised from the Hub Run will help support a variety of programs within the four Crossroads branches of the YMCA, including the YMCA’s income-based scholarship program, the complimentary membership programs for those with special needs, and the family scholarship programs for those with spouses deployed overseas.
About 30 businesses and companies helped to sponsor the race, evident by the large flock of neon-orange shirts representing ArcelorMittal. Jerry Yothment, the general manager of ArcelorMittal, organized a team of nearly 20 employees to seize the morning.
“We are just really excited to be here today to encourage our employees to lead a healthy lifestyle,” said Yothment.
Trinity Castillo, an information technician at ArcelorMittal.
“My family is supporting me on my first Fun Run after reaching a halfway point on my weight loss goal,” said Castillo, who has been a member of the YMCA with her family for many years. “As of today, I’ve reached 40 pounds of weight loss, and I’m doing this to reward myself on my progress.”
Castillo’s story of personal determination and progress seemed to be a theme throughout the morning, as one runner after another was met at the finish line with high-fives, hugs, and even some tears by friends and family members.
An especially touching moment came when Jenny Freeman, a resident of Crown Point, crossed beneath the orange finish banner and was immediately embraced by her husband and an entire entourage of supporters. Among those wrapping their arms around Freeman was Courtney Olavarria, a trainer at the YMCA, who coached Freeman for the last six weeks in preparation for the race.
“The running program was pretty much tailored for beginners, and Jenny was one of our leeriest runners on the first day,” Olavarria said. “But she worked incredibly hard throughout the program, and at the end of the run today she was the one passing up me and all of the other coaches.”
Yet, in addition to Freeman's fearlessness and never-quit attitude, it was her story and personal motivation behind her recently adopted running lifestyle that made her coaching team especially emotional at the end of the race.
“My son has been serving overseas for a year, and that’s why I'm doing this,” Freeman said while smiling and holding back tears. “He’s a runner, and he inspired me to get out here and do this. I am trying to get healthy, but I also want to honor him by maybe doing something small for him right here, while he’s doing something big for us out there."
Hannah Coetzee and Theresa Reinholtz were two more of Freeman’s coaches who were there to support her, and both could hardly stop smiling after Freeman crossed the finish line.
“It’s stories like this that make you love what you do as a coach,” Coetzee said. “I cried, we all cried, it was great.”
“Jenny’s story is just a testament to what running and pushing yourself can do,” Reinholtz said. “No matter what you have, any fear or anything holding you back, running does something for you both physically and mentally that will push you past all of that.”
At 59-years-old, Freeman said she joined the group knowing she was completely out of shape, and admitted that she barely had enough endurance to run a few minutes without losing her breath. With how far she’s come to honor both herself and her son, she and her coaches all hope that her story can be an inspiration for future runners who haven’t quite found the confidence to start.
“If you’re scared to do it, join a group, and embrace that support,” Olavarria said. “Our bodies are made to run, and to anyone who’s maybe thinking about starting up a running lifestyle, all I have to say is 'Just do it.' I promise you won’t regret it.”