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Rediscovering Happy Valley: Paterno Family Run

by and on April 27, 2014 3:45 PM

As I stand on the immaculate Beaver Stadium turf minutes after finishing the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run earlier this month, I’m reminded once again why Penn State football is about so much more than football.

A toddler, legs shaking and wobbling, steadies himself on the Beaver Stadium grass, unsure of what to do. With an eager and encouraging parent both in front and behind, the toddler, a young boy, takes off. He starts walking toward his mother and her outstretched arms. About two steps is all he musters before the youngster plops down on the turf, happy and content to be scooped up by parents who informed those watching that we had all just witnessed the baby’s first steps.

More than the wins, championships and primetime games on national television, moments like this one are why Penn State football — and Penn State University — have endured and will continue to do so.

The Paterno Family Run has become my new favorite Penn State tradition, and I’m not alone. In five years, the event has grown exponentially, with more than 4,000 runners and walkers participating in this year’s race, which raised more than $400,000. The event is also the second biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of my friendship with the late Colonel Gerald F. Russell, who recently passed away after an extremely impressive life that spanned 97 years. Colonel Russell dedicated many of his later years to supporting the Special Olympics, the benefactor of the Paterno Family Run, which is why I decided to create a team in his honor. Because I formed the team close to the race, I didn’t have much of a chance to recruit team members, but I’m planning on doing that next year.

Colonel Russell impacted so many individuals and organizations, so I’m hopeful the team’s fundraising efforts can grow, especially since I plan on continuing the team for years to come. As my friend and Trash 2 Treasure committee member David Manos says, it will be a fitting annual tribute to a man who positively impacted so many lives.

Onto race day: I’m feeling ambitious before the start, so I position myself in the five- to six-minute pace group, and after about 30 seconds of positioning myself among the other runners, I begin sprinting at a good clip.

The three-mile route I follow was like a real-life version of the board game, “Penn Stateopoly.” We run past the Berkey Creamery, zip along Curtin Road until we reach Pattee/Paterno Library, the Lion Shrine and Rec Hall. Everyone circles around, crisscrossing the university, sprinting past the HUB-Robeson Center, Pollock Halls, Thomas Building and the Millennium Science Complex.

I navigate my way back toward Beaver Stadium, burst through the south end zone tunnel, slap five with Franco Harris, the official starter for the race, and finish near midfield at about 24 minutes. I’m not thrilled with my time, but I finish 32nd out of 166 participants in my age group and place 269th overall out of nearly 2,300 runners.

Afterward, I talk a few minutes with Jay Paterno. I express my admiration for the event, and also inform him that there’s a team in honor of Colonel Russell, who was great friends with the Paterno family. However, I don’t have a chance to speak with Sue, who attends the race, greeting supporters and encouraging the participants. I’m planning on sending her a letter in the near future, wherein I’ll explain my friendship with Russell and how I’m honored to play such a minor role in ensuring his legacy continues on with Special Olympics.

I’ll probably also mention that young boy who took his first steps on the grass, and how it serves as another reminder that this event, like so many people associated with it, will continue to unite the community — something Sue knows more about than anyone.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

John covers sports for the Gazette.
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