MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It was early on a Saturday morning and the West Virginia University chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity (APO) had gathered at the Mountainlair to start a very long day.
Members, Alumni and other volunteers made their way to the Crowne Plaza just on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to participate in the 50th Annual Run for Autism Awareness.
This run started in 1969 as a way to raise awareness, donations and to commemorate the annual Backyard Brawl between WVU and The University of Pittsburgh. Before the end of the Brawl, the chapter would carry the game day ball during the run and deliver it to the stadium before kick off.
Once they arrived in at the Plaza, Chapter President Thatcher Stevens said that they partner into groups of two to three runners and begin to go over a detailed plan for the day. The runners would be running more than 65 miles along Route 19 into West Virginia.
“We sign some waivers, get some of our paperwork in order, drive up to the Crowne Plaza in Pittsburgh and we start pretty much from there along Route 19 all the way into West Virginia.”
The group is then told about the day, The drivers then line their cars along the route to kick off the event at 7:20 a.m. Runners now carry a wooden puzzle piece to represent autism awareness and an American flag while they run relay-style to the next car. Most run for a short sprint, anywhere between 15-20 feet before passing the items to the next runner and getting in the car to head to the front of the line.
Stevens said that this is easily the biggest event that APO hosts every year. Planning the next Run starts immediately after the last concluded and continues throughout the year, which is not an easy task to do according to Stevens.
“One of the hardest parts in my opinion is getting information from other people, Stevens said. “Cause its really easy to say this is the route, this is what we’re doing this day and here’s what the lunch plan is for everyone. But actually getting people to respond to your online forms, collecting that data, making sure you’re communicating as effectively as you can is always one of the harder parts.”
He said that it can be stressful, but once the day finally arrives and gets underway, the stress melts away and he is reminded why he continues to do the event each year.
“Stressful event but actually when we get started throughout the day it’s pretty low stress. So it’s a very rewarding project.”
He explained that most of the donations they receive come from the chapter’s alumni, as well as other chapters throughout the region. Stevens said that many participated in this event throughout the years and getting to the 50th anniversary is a big deal, so they are always willing to help.
One alumnus that continues to show his support is Lucas Turner, who now is a Firefighter for the City of Morgantown. He has participated in 12 runs over the years and has no intention of stopping. He said that having fun and raising money for a good cause is what keeps him coming back.
“Honestly, it’s so much fun to do this. You get up at four o’clock in the morning and you meet a random group of people, you come out and you do relay race style. Everyone is dancing and having a good time, it’s all for a good cause.”
Turner explained that it is important to keep runners motivated throughout the day. Even though the sprints are short, there are a lot of them and it’s easy to get tired.
“Whenever you are at this all day, you woke up early, you’re tired and you’ve been running all day,’ explained Turner. “So naturally you’re exhausted and stuff, but when you get to that finish line, there’s nothing like that feeling when everyone is celebrating over the fact of what they just accomplished.”
The runners continued until a lunch break at 2:30 p.m. After that, they traveled down the windy country roads into West Virginia, where they were met by other alumni at the WVU Mylan Puskar Stadium.
The Run proceeds benefit the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Which often is used to help better the community’s understanding of Autism.
Those who are interested in donating to the cause can do so by going to the chapter’s PayPal by clicking here.