By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Event organizer Brittany Drake had one thing in mind when planning the AccessHealth 5K/10K: She wanted to see people of all ages getting active.
If the results of Saturday’s 5K are any indication, the future is in good hands.
Twenty-six of the 76 participants were under the age of 18, including the winner.
Chris Barbera, a 12-year-old Park Middle School student, ran away with the fastest time in the race, passing the finish line in 18 minutes, 30 seconds, 11 seconds ahead of second-place Gretchen McDonough of Lewisburg.
It was simple motivation that propelled Barbera to victory.
“I was thinking that I’m not going to let somebody beat me,” Barbera said. “I’m just really happy I won.”
When Chris rounded the final turn to the home stretch, he saw his father George there cheering him on.
“He started to cry,” Chris said of his father.
It was a moment that made the Park cross country coach beam with pride.
“I’m very proud of him. Yes, I am,” the elder Barbera said. “He’s a good kid and a good student. When he does something, he puts a lot of effort into it. It pays off for him. Let me tell ya, he works hard on his own. It’s not me pushing him.”
While George won’t admit to pushing his son, Chris said his father’s words prior to the race helped motivate him along the course.
“He said, ‘Don’t think, just run the race.’ So that’s what I did,” Chris said. “He’s always there for me.”
Shortly behind Barbera was one of his Park teammates.
Danny Bickey, 12, finished with a time of 18:57.
“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, all this hard work is paying off,’” Bickey said.
The Park duo were just two of the many youth who made up the race.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Raegan Hefner, a seventh-grade student at Shady Spring Middle. “I thought I was going to die, but it was fun.”
It was Hefner’s first 5K, but she was able to enjoy it with future schoolmate, Makayla Meadows, who will be entering the sixth grade at Shady this week.
“I feel good!” Meadows said. “It was hot. I’ve had a knee injury for about a year, but whenever that started to kick in it was very painful. I had fun though.”
George Barbera was glad to see a mix of youth runners with more seasoned and mature runners on the course.
“Look at all the people out here from all ages,” he said. “They’re acting as role models for the young kids and being out here running with these people. I just think it’s great for them to see what’s going on and to see how people are doing.
“You can run your whole life,” he added. “There’s a guy out here that’s in his 80s that’s running. It’s something that you can do as a youngster and you can do your whole life.”
The Barberas weren’t the only father-son duo celebrating at the end of the race.
Butch McNeely and son Ashley shared a laugh and a smile as they crossed the finish line.
“It was a father-and-son thing,” Butch said. “We just jogged it. He could have left me and blew me away but we just stayed together. It’s sort of a family thing.”
“It’s great to run with my dad,” Ashley said. “He’s 60 years old. It’s a lot of inspiration that all these older guys and these younger guys like me are out here running. It’s a good father-son experience.”
But when the elder McNeely found out they had been beaten by someone 48 years younger than him, he had only two words.
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