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Marines Add Dose of Pride to Schools’ Spirit Run Benefit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marines in combat boots and fatigues belted out military chants and hoisted U.S. and Marine flags as they jogged Sunday with a record 5,430 runners at the annual Spirit Run.

The 180 Marines joined both the 5- and 10-kilometer races of the run, which raises money for Harbor View, Eastbluff and Andersen elementary schools.

“Everybody was delighted and pleasantly surprised that the Marines joined us today,” said Jim Roberts, the race announcer. “It gave everybody a feeling of pride.” Others, too, said the Marines’ appearance made even more special an event that attracted more runners than ever in its eight-year history. Entry fees brought in more than $55,000 for the schools, said race director Cheryl Morse.

With belt tightening increasing in school districts across the county, Morse said, fund-raisers like the Spirit Run are a much-needed resource to keep programs intact despite cost cutting. About 5,000 curbside spectators cheered the runners on, while pop music from a local radio station blared from several speakers.

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Students came out in force, many sporting Spirit Race T-shirts and neon-colored tennis shoes. One group of youngsters even donned neon roller skates, but were not permitted to enter the race.

“I’m disappointed,” said Luke Showalter, 12, who attends Harbor View Elementary School. “I think they should have a 5K for roller blades.”

About 250 volunteers helped keep the race on track, guiding runners through the course, directing lost children to their parents and handing out cups of water.

Carol Hoppe, a four-year volunteer at the Spirit Run, was responsible Sunday for making sure the cups remained full. She had started her duties at 6:30 a.m. and spent most of the day at a long wooden table, pouring water. But the highlight for her, Hoppe said, were the Marines.

“Having the Marines is always special, but this is really special,” she said. “It’s a wonderful community booster.”

Although paramedics waited by the finish line at Fashion Island, they only treated a few scraped knees and tight muscles.

The first Spirit Run in 1983 attracted about 1,200 participants, she said. It has grown each year since then as more sponsors and community members get involved.

The race also is becoming more prestigious, she said. The winner of the women’s overall division, Lisa Weidenbach, 29, is a world-class track athlete who will be on the U.S. Olympic team in Barcelona, Spain, next year.

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Weidenbach, of Seattle, who ran the 10K in 35:15, said she was delighted by the turnout and festive atmosphere. Events like this, she said, keep children “out of trouble by giving them something to do. The schoolchildren are the ones who need to be recognized in this event, because they generate the numbers by getting people to sign up.”

Other first-place winners were Greg Whiteley, 24, of Irvine, in the men’s 10K; John Konigh, 34, in the men’s 5K, and Diane Haney, 29, of Laguna Niguel, in women’s 5K.

A large, electronic time clock stationed near the finish line allowed the crowd and announcer Roberts to keep track of race leaders and times. Roberts’ booming voice, which echoed through several speakers, has been a mainstay of the race since its beginning. The beachwear company owner also is one of eight co-sponsors of the event.

“I’m delighted at the turnout,” he said. “This is the biggest and best race I’ve seen so far and it went very smoothly,” he said.

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Several runners said sun and sky were kind to the athletes.

“The weather was perfect,” said Ricardo Alvarado, 31, of Costa Mesa, a three-year veteran of the event. “The course conditions were up to par, and the race keeps getting bigger each year.”


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