HOLMES BEACH – When the runners take their places for the 13th Annual Dolphin Dash 5K race on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 8:30 a.m, they’ll have a persistent and loving mom to thank.
Rebecca “Becky” Walter joined the Anna Maria Elementary School PTO when her twin daughters were in kindergarten and her sons in second and third grades. She volunteered and sometimes substituted as she was a certified teacher. While at the school, she made a disturbing observation.
“I noticed most of the kids weren’t wearing sneakers or laced up sneakers, even though they had PE every day,” she said. “I heard a lot of kids talking about video games and noticed a lot of these kids were spending a lot of time inside.
“I started running right after my kids were born,” she said. “It is so great – basically free and you can do it anywhere.”
When she was at a PTO meeting, they discussed fundraisers and she suggested a 5K.
“Everyone was completely on board,” she said. “The principal said ‘yes,’ and I had a ton of support and volunteers.
“Ellen Harte and Else Hellem-Brusso helped a bunch with early days organization and figuring out how to even start,” she said. “We contacted the Bradenton Runners Club and met with them. We mapped out a course and the police said they’d help out. We started securing sponsors and donations and support.”
Walter started a Runners Club at the school.
“Two mornings per week, a ton of kids would show up early to run laps in the back of school,” she said. “We printed training cards and after the kids trained at school and at home for a certain number of miles, they earned Dolphin Dash shoelaces.
“I held a T-shirt contest at the school and ordered shirts. We had goodie bags and things to put in them.”
That first year, they didn’t have online registration, so people had to mail in entries or drop them at school. And they did.
“We decided to keep entry cheap for kids 18 and under and to have awards go five deep in age levels,” she said. “We decided to also do a one-mile fun run at the end of the race.”
Art and music teacher Gary Wooten supplied the music.
“To this day, every time I hear ‘Beautiful Day,’ by U2, I think about the Dolphin Dash,” she said. “Rainia Lardas would stay over every night before the race to help with last minute details.
“On race day all these people showed up a super early time to stand on the race course, hand out goodie bags, clap for finishers. The custodians and principal would show up early and open the school. Maggie Cucci always showed up to help. Jerry Kern woke up and drove the guy around on his golf cart to set out cones. It was a beautiful day.”
Interest in the Dolphin Dash grows
“Every year it kept getting bigger and more people came out to run,” Walter said. “The kids all have such a sense of pride as they finish – it is really a great lesson in setting and achieving goals and a chance to experience self worth.
“I loved hearing people talk about training. We had a guy run the race after a kidney transplant. One year, a mom and her teenage son came in dead last, beaming. Her son had received a new heart that year and I remember her saying that she didn’t care how long it took them to finish, she was so thankful to be there with her son.
“I love seeing Dolphin Dash shirts around town and hearing people say that the Dolphin Dash is a great run to start the year.
“I am so proud how we all came together and organized this cool event. My kids are still runners. I see a lot of kids from the early Dolphin Dash days who still run. It is kind of a lifelong gift, to learn the benefits of running early and to learn how to do it and that it can be fun.”