3rd annual Love the Lake comes to Clewiston

Runners take off from the starting line at the 2012 Love the Lake run.

Runners take off from the starting line at the 2012 Love the Lake run.

On your marks, get set, GO!

It’s that time of year again: New Year’s resolutions may be waning, but the cooler winter temperatures mean runners and walkers can suit up, step outside and not drop from heat stroke.

An opportunity for those avid runners and walkers to come together and enjoy their shared passion is also fast approaching: The Love the Lake 5k/10k is coming up on its third year and race coordinator Johnnie Nelson has high hopes for this year’s competition.

Nelson is a member of the Clewiston Rotary Club and sits on the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Both organizations sponsor and coordinate the race, but it was the Rotary Club’s vision of bringing a 5k race to Clewiston several years ago that initiated the process.

The result is the Love the Lake 5k/10k, which has successfully raised much-needed funds for worthy causes, while offering a healthy medium for Hendry County residents to reunite with the massive lake that makes up their backyards.

Love the Lake is a unique race, said Nelson, because of its location. The race is held on the pedestrian path that circles the lake and offers a beautiful view of the rim canal.

“It’s more picturesque than other races,” said Nelson, adding that the race not only showcases the lake in an unconventional way, it brings people together from all over South Florida.

This year, to attract even more people to the lake, Love the Lake is offering a half-marathon in addition to the 5k and 10k already offered.

County Commissioner Karson Turner was the initial advocate of the half-marathon, said Nelson, with the Tourism and Development Council (TDC) also jumping on board.

“The TDC likes the idea of the half-marathon because it brings more people from the coast,” said Nelson. Having a professional company — Split Second Timing — at the finish line to capture each individual’s finishing time is also an attractive feature for out-of-towners (and in-towners for that matter) who participate in races often.

This year’s race also correlates with another exciting Hendry County event: the Hendry County Fair. Love the Lake is being held the same day the Hendry County Fair opens, on Saturday, Feb. 15, and everyone who participates in the race will be given free admission into the fair. The fair features carnival-style games, rides and delicious fare, and would be a great way to unwind after running the race.

“What’s better than running a 5k and eating funnel cake?” joked Nelson.

And if free admission into the fair weren’t enough, race participants also receive a complimentary pancake breakfast at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina after the race, a free t-shirt and free goodie bags.

Kids can also participate in the race during the “Kiddie Dash” — a short sprint for kids ages 10 and younger. All kids who run in the Kiddie Dash will also receive a free t-shirt, goodie bag and a gold medal.

Nelson hopes to see at least 250 participants in this year’s race. The first year saw 273 runners, while the second year only saw about 189. Nelson said the foggy weather was a big factor in last year’s drop in runners.

Nelson is hoping for better weather this year.

Though the weather is always unpredictable, February’s typically mild temperatures were a major reason why the Rotary Club chose to hold the race during this time of year. Another reason was because February is dubbed Heart Health month, and running is a great way to keep on top of heart health.

And the fact that February is also the month of love made it only natural to name the race, “Love the Lake.”

The first year’s race, held in 2011, saw another reason to associate the race with love and heart health: the beneficiary of the race’s proceeds was then-Clewiston High School senior Darius Redd. That year, the former football player was in need of a heart transplant and Love the Lake helped raise nearly $2,000 towards his procedure.

Redd attended the 2012 race after undergoing a successful heart transplant, and watched as the proceeds were donated to Active Citizens for Children.

This year, the proceeds will be divvied up between the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce; both organizations will decide where to donate their portion of the money. Unlike previous years, said Nelson, there was not a cause or organization that stood out as being the obvious beneficiary for the race’s proceeds.

According to Nelson, the Rotary Club will most likely use the proceeds toward high school scholarships, while the Chamber of Commerce will be using the money to expand their Sugarland Tours.

The Love the Lake 5k/10k will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15. Race-day registration opens at 5:45 a.m. at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina, and the half-marathon kicks off the race at 7 a.m. A detailed race schedule, race routes and entry forms can be found at the Love the Lake website: www.lovethelake5k10k.com.

Love the Lake is still looking for potential sponsors, including mile marker sponsors. Please visit their website to print the sponsorship opportunities form, or contact the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce at 863-983-7979.

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