Tunnel Run takes participants under the Patapsco River

More than 800 runners emerge into morning sun

September 21, 2014|By Susan Reimer | The Baltimore Sun

Not many people can say they ran underneath the Patapsco River, but now about 900 Special Olympians and their supporters can add that to their athletic achievements.

The occassion was Sunday's sixth annual Fort McHenry Tunnel 5K run/walk to benefit Special Olympics Maryland.

It was hot inside Fort McHenry tunnel No. 4, even though the ventilation system was on high. The lights were on and the white tiles were shimmering. A group of cadets training to be Maryland Transportation Authority Police was running in formation and shouting cadences that bounced off the tunnel walls.

As they emerged from the tunnel on Interstate 95 into the hazy morning light, the runners were greeted with honking horns of approval from the truckers and motorists from neighboring lanes. Not surprisingly, the runners said they found the race memorable.

Daniel Bisers, 28, a Baltimore engineer, was first across the finish line, completing the 3.1 miles in 17 minutes, 45 seconds. "It was a unique experience," he said. "And a good cause."

Jim Schmutz, president of Special Olympics Maryland, worked the crowd as the runners prepared for the race and again while they were refueling on more than 900 burgers and chicken sandwiches grilled up by the staff of Outback Steakhouse on Boston Street.

"Thanks for coming," he said. "Did you have a good time?"

"We are hoping to raise about $40,000 this year," he said. "But we'd like to eventually get to 1,000 runners."

There are 90,000 Marylanders with intellectual disabilities, but only about 7,000 participate in the two dozen sports offered year round, everything from Alpine skiing to boccie, said Schmutz. "We need to get the word out."

For 10 Special Olympian runners, this race was more than a fun run. It was a qualifying race for the state distance championships that will be held at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg at the end of October.

The first special athlete to finish was Mark Worley, 28, of Columbia, who finishing in under 22 minutes. "The air was hard to breath," he said. "I just pushed through."

Worley raced with his identical twin, Bruce, but pulled away to finish ahead of him. The brothers run daily, but are very competitive and rarely train together. "It's a twin thing," explained Bruce, who, along with the other dozen Howard County Special Olympian runners is trained by his father, John.

It was Madrice Guy's first tunnel run — and his first race of any kind. The 34-year-old software engineer wanted to support the cause and thought running through a tunnel would be a cool first experience.

"It was hot in there," he said. "I have to say it was a breath of fresh air when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel." Sweat dripping, he laughed when he realized the string of cliches he'd just uttered.

Rebecca Hemler, 34, was the first woman to finish, crossing in 21:19. She works for the therapeutic recreation program in the Baltimore Recreation and Parks Department, heard about the race at the office.

The runners entered the tunnel and ran about a mile and a half before turning and coming back through, and the stragglers cheered the leaders as they did.

"It was warm but really exciting," said Hemler as she waited for her dad, Bob Hemler, to finish. "The crowd coming the other way was shouting for us and I loved it. It was so energizing. And the novelty is nice."

It was the first race ever for Janet Payton, 51, from Severn. Her husband signed them both up and she wasn't thrilled. But she finished in 40 minutes and was motivated by the chanting of the police cadets, who also raised more than $5,000 in pledges.

"This was a different way to start [running races], but the spirit was exciting."

sreimer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/susanreimer

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