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Traditional July 4 race continues, but with adjustments

The Blair Regional YMCA’s Angie Gioiosa Memorial Fourth of July Race is an event that has been steeped in tradition and longevity.

Since the race began back in 1971 as the brainchild of the late Gioiosa and another member of the Altoona Running Club, Jack Foreman, it has been an annual community Independence Day festivity that has been highlighted by many of the same individuals and family members returning each summer to participate.

“A lot of family traditions have evolved around it,” said Frank Kopriva, Blair Regional YMCA Senior Program Director, who is in charge of putting on the event, which this year will involve a 15K run, a 5K run, and a 2-mile walk. “And the race itself has certainly been a big tradition. It’s probably one of the longest consecutively-run foot races in the state of Pennsylvania, and it’s a great way for people to start their holiday.”

A.J. Kelly, 38, of Altoona, who has won the Fourth of July 15K (9.3-mile) race seven times and will return to run it again this year, has always appreciated the opportunity to participate.

“It’s a challenging course, always warmer weather, always great competition,” Kelly said. “It’s something that has always been part of my Fourth of July. This race has always been something special to me.”

Tim Hallinan, 64, of Altoona, who estimates that he has run the Fourth of July 15K race over 30 times since 1979, would most certainly agree, as would several members of his family.

Hallinan will compete in the 15K race this year with his grown son, Tom, and his two grown twin daughters, Jane and Julie. Tim Hallinan’s daughter, Kelly, will participate in the 5K race with her husband, Jed. Kelly Hallinan will run the race course while pushing a stroller with Tim’s two grandchildren inside of it.

“As long as I’ve been involved with running, the first thing that I’ve done on the Fourth of July is to run the race,” Tim Hallinan said. “It’s spectacular. It has been going on for lot of years, and a lot of people look forward to it.”

With that kind of background, it would have been a shame if the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wiped out so many events and activities around the country since mid-March, would have also added the Altoona Fourth of July Race to its casualty list.

But when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf placed Blair County in the least-restrictive green phase of COVID-19 restrictions on June 5, it also gave the green light for the July 4 race to be held.

Because of the pandemic, Kopriva and other race officials were required to get a permit from the city of Altoona for the event to be held this year. Kopriva proposed a safety plan for the race at a meeting of Altoona City Council on June 10, and was given the go-ahead to proceed with the event at that time.

As in past years, the three races will begin Saturday in front of the Mishler Theatre and end at the Heritage Plaza. But aside from that, there are many changes for this year’s event, in order to abide by the social distancing guidelines that have been imposed by the pandemic.

All three races had always started at the same time in the past. This year, in order to avoid congestion in front of the Mishler, each race will have its own starting time. The 15K will begin at 7 a.m., while the 5K will start at 8 a.m. and the 2-mile walk will begin at 8:30 a.m.

“Normally, we have 800 to 1,000 people standing in front of the Mishler Theatre all at once at the start of the race,” Kopriva said. “This year, the start line (crowd) will be more spread out because we will have only one race at a time.”

Because of the state mandate that no more than 250 people can be at any place at any one time, registration for each of the three races has been limited to 190 participants. That leaves room for 60 other people for each race who may be police officials, or serving as timers, scorers, or road marshals.

In order to comply with social distancing regulations, runners will be seeded according to their anticipated times per mile, and will begin the races by emerging from corrals that serve a separation purpose.

Masks won’t be necessary for participants once the events begin, but each participant should wear a mask near the starting line and maintain at least six feet of distance from others.

There will be no awards ceremony – individual results in each race and in each age division will be posted online on the Blair Regional YMCA website – but every finisher in each of the three events will receive a commemorative medal when crossing the finish line.

Water and pre-packaged snacks will be made available to all finishers, but participants are asked to leave Heritage Plaza as soon as possible after finishing their events.

For safety reasons, Kopriva is also asking that spectators refrain from congregating at the start line or finish line, and instead watch the events from along the course.

There will be no registration allowed on the day of the event. Registration can be accomplished either online or by calling the YMCA at 695-4467, or by visiting the YMCA personally to register. The registration fee is $25 for each race, and registration deadline is Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The Lollipop Run for children ages 6 and under has been canceled this year.

“We’d rather keep the tradition going in a reduced version than not having it all,” Kopriva said.

The Fourth of July Race is one of seven scheduled annually as part of the Blair Regional YMCA’s Wellness Challenge Series. The first two this year were postponed because of the pandemic, but Kopriva is hoping to get in all seven events on the 2020 schedule.

“That’s the plan, but we’re not taking anything for granted at this point,” Kopriva said. “We’re taking one race at a time and considering all the information that will be handed down to us.”

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