Greg and Rose Hermes had a wedding to go to Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop them from getting up at dawn to participate – with about 9,000 others – in the 2012 edition of Fort4Fitness.
But it’s not just because the couple are into living a healthy lifestyle.
With every step they took they were supporting a peace-building effort half a world away in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“There’s been a buildup for this at church for months,” said Hermes, 60, who completed the four-mile run as part of a contingent from Fort Wayne’s Fellowship Missionary Church.
“Probably a quarter of the church is doing this,” added Rose, 59, who walked the course.
With their lime-green T-shirts emblazoned with a map of Africa and trimmed in the Congolese colors of gold, red and green, the Fellowship 500 – as they were being informally called at Parkview Field on Saturday – was one of the more visible groups that used Saturday’s fitness runs to benefit a cause.
But they weren’t the only one, said Mark Wolf, marketing director for the races, which included a 10-kilometer, half-marathon, and four-mile runs, along with a Friday night children’s race and the finishing leg of an incremental marathon for seniors.
A new feature this year encouraged charitable groups to piggyback their own fundraising efforts with the Fort4Fitness events, Wolf said.
Seventeen groups, ranging from Neighborlink Fort Wayne to the Fort Wayne Pet Food Pantry, signed up as charity partners, he said.
The groups’ more than 1,100 participants meant that about 1 in 10 of the 8,968 registered runners and walkers were championing a cause.
Traever Wieland, 36, of Fort Wayne, ran the half-marathon with a group of about 100 raising money for Youth for Christ. The organization ministers to college students on campuses and runs the Primetime youth center near South Side High School.
As Youth for Christ’s operations director, Wieland said that in the past year he has reached his own fitness goals, losing 100 pounds and in several long races. He expects to run in the Indianapolis Marathon in three weeks.
But it’s “that extra push” to run for a cause, he said. “It was just good to be out here and be part of all this.”
The group headed by Carla Jennings of Fort Wayne wasn’t one of the official charity partners. But she said they were still running for something close to her heart – fighting obesity in the black community.
Statistics show blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to be obese, and nearly four out of five black women are overweight or obese.
So, about 30 clients of Jennings’ business Fit4U! ran the four-mile race. The oldest was 67-year-old Janie Morton of Fort Wayne and the youngest was 9-year-old Dillon Roseman, also of Fort Wayne.
“We wanted to get more minorities involved and help people see that they could do this,” Jennings said, adding group members trained for eight weeks in conjunction with the Jorgensen and Renaissance Pointe YMCAs, she said.
Wolf said participation in this year’s Fort4Fitness grew by a modest 400 people. Counting a children’s race on Friday night and seniors’ marathon participants, 9,809 signed up, compared to about 9,400 last year. The event has ballooned from about 3,000 participants in its first year in 2008.
But counting spectators who lined the stadium seating areas to cheer on the runners and walkers as they completed their final legs around the outfield perimeter to finish at home plate, the overall crowd was probably in excess of 28,000, Wolf said. People could also see their favorites on Parkview Field’s big screen as they entered the ballpark.
Most participants came from northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, Wolf said. But because the half-marathon is the official Central Region championship for the Road Runners Club of America, it drew from around the Midwest, he said.
Registrations came from 26 states, Washington, D.C., and four foreign countries, according to Wolf.
One participant was from the Congo, said Mark Mays, 40, a youth pastor at Fellowship. The church has been involved in the southeast African nation since 2006, and is in partnership with the international aid organization World Relief.
Teams from Fellowship have visited the country, and the church also has helped refugees resettle in Fort Wayne, he said.
“It’s a war-torn area that is probably the worst in the world for gender and tribal-based violence,” Mays said. “You’re dealing with generations of unforgiveness and resentment.”
Mays said Saturday’s effort raised more than $30,000 for village-based conflict resolution committees that keep small disputes from escalating.
About 540 people from Fellowship walked or ran, and 130 more served as volunteers. A pastor from the Congo came to Fort Wayne to deliver prayers before each race kicked off.
“We’re making a statement,” Mays said, “ … that there is hope.”