By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — On Saturday, Sept. 20, a crowd will gather at Town Hall in Niskayuna for a tradition so popular that it outlived the program that started it.
Seven years ago, Niskayuna phased out its Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in favor of different forms of drug and alcohol education for the community. With DARE went the annual fall fun run.
“Everyone missed the run because it was a real community race, so we decided to have the town take it over about six years ago,” town Councilwoman Julie McDonnell said.
Now a stand-alone event, the fall fun run is still going strong. About 200 people register each year, and even more come by to do arts and crafts, partake in donated refreshments from local businesses, and cheer on friends and neighbors as they work up a sweat.
The event includes three separate races: a 100-yard dash for kids, a milelong run/walk course and a timed 5K. The two shorter courses are free to enter. The 5K costs $20 per person or $50 for a family, and all proceeds benefit youth programs in town.
There are plenty of races available in the Capital Region for runners who want to challenge themselves with a tough 5K. What makes this one so special is its community focus and its emphasis on fun, McDonnell said.
“What’s kind of nice about this event is it’s casual,” she said. “We have very good runners to just beginners and walkers. There’s kids of all ages, through seniors, and it’s just a very enjoyable community night.”
The race’s timing is also unusual. Many 5K runs are in the morning, but this event takes place in the evening, beginning with the kids’ 100-yard dash at 5:30. It’s scheduled that way partly so members of school and club teams can join in, even if they have meets during the day. McDonnell said lacrosse, crew, soccer and many other Niskayuna teams have participated in the past.
Clubs and school teams are vital to the run’s purpose. Ever since the town took over management, the focus has been on promoting youth programs and keeping them affordable. There’s even a special prize for the team or club that brings the largest group of participants.
McDonnell said the event helps parents and kids figure out what sports and activities are available, interesting and possibly worth trying.
“I look at it as an opportunity for parents and the community to learn about other youth activities that are going on out there,” she said.
And when they do get involved, the race helps make sure town-run youth programs are affordable, too. Last year, the run raised about $10,000 to keep camps and sports reasonably priced for local families.
There are plenty of incentives to run. The first 200 registrants for the 5K will get a performance T-shirt with the run logo on it. Kids who participate in the 100-yard dash can win glow sticks and ribbons.
The top male and female finishers, as well as the top finishers in each age group, will also win prizes. Last year, the 5K race’s champions were 12-year-old Madeleine Hesler, who crossed the finish line in 17:22, and 16-year-old Metin Ozisik, who completed the course in 18:57.
Even for those who’d never dream of lacing up a pair of sneakers for fun, there will be plenty of entertainment.
Gabby Pizzolo, a local middle school student who is currently cast as the title character in “Matilda” on Broadway, will perform the national anthem. There will be a DJ, snacks and beverages donated by local businesses, a balloon artist, a raffle and a craft tent. Kids and adults can even take a shot at “bubble soccer,” which involves climbing inside a giant, inflatable soccer ball and rolling around.
Registration is available at www.Niskayuna.org, the town’s website. Advanced registration is encouraged, but not required; same-day entrance will be available at the race. For those not running the 5K, attendance is free.
Nisky Fall Fun Run
WHAT: A family event with proceeds benefiting youth programs in Niskayuna
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 20
— 5:30 p.m.: Free 100-yard dash for kids (prizes for top finishers)
— 5:45 p.m.: 5K race
— 6 p.m.: Free 1-mile Fun Run/Walk
WHERE: Starting line is at Niskayuna Town Hall
COST: $20 per runner or $50 per family; proceeds help keep programs like playground camp and soccer affordable.