WHEELING - In less than two weeks, the area's biggest and most anticipated 5K road race will hit the streets of the Friendly City on Saturday, Aug. 4.
The festivities surrounding the 15th annual Debbie Green Memorial 5K actually got under way Tuesday afternoon when race director Ron Green hosted sponsors, committee members and honorees at a reception at the McClure House.
The Debbie Green Memorial 5K has evolved from a relatively small race in Benwood to one that consistently attracts well over 1,000 runners and walkers, including this year in which Green believes the number of entrants could be record-setting.
"What better way to spend a Saturday night than being at the Heritage Port either running, walking, volunteering or just down there to witness the great event and help some families in need," Green told the audience of nearly 100 people. "I hope thousands of people come down to the race and the city of Wheeling."
Green told the story of his sister, who lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 7.
Green decided he was tired of seeing people suffer with leukemia and wanted to do his part in helping the process, so he approached his parents, who've both since passed away, about running a race in honor of Debbie.
After receiving their blessing, he approached several people he knew within the running and business communities such as Herk Sparachane, of Undo's, and George Macek and Terry Whitecotton.
All three jumped on board and have been actively involved ever since. Macek and Whitecotton are co-assistant race directors, while Sparachane and Undo's is still one of the chief sponsors. Sparachane also oversaw the Links for Leukemia Group, which has raised for more than $100,000 for the Green Race.
Along with the story of his sister, Green re-lived some of the past races from its early years in Benwood to how well it's been received in Wheeling.
Not everything has always gone so smoothly for the race. Just two years ago, a fire in downtown Wheeling area caused the race to be delayed. Weather has also been a factor over the years.
But, nothing has detered Green from his ultimate goal of honoring his sister and helping area residents fight the battle against leukemia. All told, the Green Race has aided 23 different families in its history.
Due to tax laws, Green isn't allowed to name who will be the recipients of the proceeds from the race until the day of the event.
"We're going to give these people a relief and get their mind off things that they're dealing with," Green said. "We're going to have some fun and make the best of the situation."
Along with the main 5K race, the activities actually get under way on Friday when racers can pre-register and also the Green Mile is held that night.
This year's Green Mile is in honor of four individuals who've lost their battle with leukemia since the race's inception. They are Chris Carlier of Martins Ferry, Robbie Kemp of Belmont, Scott Melko, who was the first adult the race helped, and Matthugh Johnston.
"These families have all come back over the years and I tell the families that we're all a family now," Green said. "Once you're in, you're in. We've retired numbers in honor of these four and now we're honoring their memory again."
On Saturday, the Debbie's Dash, which is a 100-yard race for kids 9 and under, will be held at 5 p.m. The race will begin with fireworks.
The entry fee is $3, but each racer will receive a shirt, race towel, pizza, ice cream, baloons and a chance to win a grand prize trip to Kings Island along with other door prizes, including bicycles.
"We charge an entry fee for this race because we want teach kids about helping people," Green said.
Prior to the start of the race, the Green 5K will retire a number, which has become a tradition.
"We've retired the numbers in honor of America, our veterans, police officers and firemen, my parents, George Kellas, Don Cartman, Bill Shipe, LeeAnn Schambach, Trisha Graham, Lou DeFillippo," Green said. "We don't forget about these people because over time, they've been a big part of our race."
Wheeling's Marty Steffan will be honored with a number retired this year.
"Marty lost her battle to cancer in the fall," Green said. "She's one of the first people I met in road racing when I went to a club meeting. Everyone she talked to, she welcomed because she was just that type of person."
After the pre-race ceremonies, it'll be time to run and Green is expecting another impressive field, which has already received applications from participants from 15 different states. In the race's history, six Olympians have ran and Green believes there could be another.
Former WVU distance runner Clara Grandt is registered and she's also an alternate for the United States Track and Field team.
"For a 5K to get that kind of representation is crazy," Green said. "We've got a little bit of prize money, but not a lot, but when you get a couple of good runners come and compete, they go and tell others and it just takes off."
The post-race party will be catered by Undo's and features countless door prizes, including two grand prize drawings, including a week-long trip to Myrtle Beach and a weekend golf getaway to Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
After all of the prizes and awards are presented, a brief film with the history of the race will be shown that will set the stage for a fireworks display.
"The moral of the story is we want to treat our entrants well," Green said. "We want to give them as much as we can. We're excited about the fireworks and we're excited to see how many people we can get into the city for that."
Don't think for a second Green is about to rest on what he's built over the years.
"I am already thinking about 2013," Green said. "I know we're going to find someone to help and we're going to make a financial donation to help a family with medical bills, or just expenses to help be a relief to their lives.
"We're not going to slow down. We're going to keep this going for as long as we can," Green continued.
More information on the race can be found at debbiegreen5k.com