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RH Rotary raises $2,500 to eradicate Polio
First Pacing for Polio 5K drew 65 participants, several sponsors
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Runners cross the finish line Saturday night at J.F. Gregory Park during the Richmond Hill Rotary Club's first Pacing for Polio 5K fundraiser. - photo by Hollie Moore Barnidge

The Richmond Hill Rotary Club and Georgia Game Changers raised over $2,500 on Saturday to help eradicate polio during the Pacing for Polio 5K fundraiser at J.F. Gregory Park.

 The race, which began at 6 p.m., drew about 65 participants. Rotarians Byron Atkinson, Laura McGee and Ray Pittman won their age and gender-group categories, and Atkinson led about 15 children in a fun race of their own. Rotarians Linda Bowers, Rich de Long, Ashley Roberts, Byron Atkinson, Lesley Francis and Teresa Merritt formed the committee that helped organize the event.

 After all runners had crossed the finish line, prizes were awarded during a party at the Station Exchange, where local country/Southern rock band Exit 76 performed and participants enjoyed hamburgers and hotdogs.

 McGee, who has been a Rotarian since 1997, was happy to lace up her running shoes to help support a worthy cause.

 “This is for the eradication of polio. There are so few places in the world where it’s left, and I just think it’s really important to go on and eliminate it in those last few countries,” she said.

 McGee didn’t do much to train for the event, since she’s already physically active.

 “I run pretty regularly and have been for several years,” she said.

 The money raised from the race will be donated to Rotary International’s campaign to eradicate polio from the planet. Polio still is endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rotary International runs a vaccination program for children in those countries.

 Race participant Sgt. 1stClass Leona Brooks knows first-hand the devastating effects polio can have on a family.

 “My grandfather actually contracted polio during the Korean War, and it was something that he dealt with while I was growing up and seeing him going through everything. … Obviously, we need to try and eradicate it. And also being a medic, the whole thing with immunizations, making sure people are immunizing their children against this,” she said.

 Brooks, who is stationed at Fort Stewart, is no stranger to organized runs.

 “I’m not an avid runner, but I’m in the military, so I run a lot doing the Army thing. But I tried to run extra to keep up with my soldiers and to try and keep young,” she said.

 Rotary President Lesley Francis said she was so pleased with the success of the 5K, the club is looking at making it an annual event.

 “This year, Rotary’s theme is to ‘Light up Rotary,’ and we are delighted with the success of our first Pacing for Polio race. The awards ceremony and after-race party were great fun, and it was wonderful to reach out to people in our community and tell them more about Rotary,” said Francis, who also served on the planning committee. “We first met to plan the event two months ago and probably spent over 200 man hours working on the event.”

 Race sponsors, in addition to Georgia Game Changers, were Boost by Design, The Suites at Station Exchange and Station Exchange at Home, Lesley Francis PR, Life Moves Dance Studio, Megateeth Fossils, Southeastern Bank, Wards Auto Painting and Bodyworks, Fish Tales, Interlinc Mortgage Services, Coastal Endontics and the Coastal Empire Beer Company. After-race refreshments were provided by Jalapenos of Richmond Hill.

 “Our club is focusing on future generations this year, and polio is a disease that cripples children. Raising money for this cause is very important and is a focus for Rotary International this year because the eradication of polio from the planet is very close and every cent raised to fight polio will be matched by the Gates Foundation,” Francis said. “If polio is not completely eradicated, it could return from the three countries in Africa and the Middle East where it is still endemic and return to other countries such as the United States, where eradication has been successful and the vaccination program is established.”

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