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‘Y’ puts best foot forward with July 4 Race

Commentary

Williamsburg’s Loc O outpaced seven-time 15K winner A.J. Kelly of Altoona by more than two minutes to win the 48th running of the Angie Gioiosa Memorial Fourth of July Race on Saturday.

But the top two finishers didn’t gather on a medal stand to congratulate each other.

In fact, no one really gathered anywhere. But, more than 300 competitors in three separate races and several more volunteers still enjoyed the holiday tradition in a time where many other events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loc O’s winning time of 52:47.56, which he began running at 7 a.m., allowed him to be on his way out of downtown Altoona by the time Saturday’s 5K started at 8 a.m. By the time rising Northern Bedford senior Ian Zimmerman won that race on 13th Street in 16:48.30 ahead of runner-up Jack Hatch of Altoona (17:29.46), competitors for the 2-mile walk were only starting to line up on 12th Street.

Around 9 a.m., Altoona’s Donna Stoltz was wrapping up another walk title in 20:46.10, finishing ahead of runner-up Jill Little of Patton (21:07.19).

The staggered start times were just some of the changes made that made the event one of the best examples of how sports can continue in a safe manner amid the pandemic.

Racers were asked to arrive just 20 minutes prior to their race and were lined up by their pace per mile to avoid grouping and to get runners in an order that would likely be maintained throughout the competition.

Unlike some other sporting events taking place in the area, nearly every competitor, race volunteer and fan arrived at the starting line wearing a mask. Racers were spread out 6 feet away from each other and wore their masks until the race began.

During the race, orange cones and arrows replaced some volunteers to keep racers on track, and instead of the normal open cups of water, bottles of water were available for competitors who wished to grab one and open them themselves.

When they crossed the finish line, racers were provided a bag of goodies and another bottle of water from masked volunteers and asked to leave the downtown area.

In the past, Altoona’s Heritage Plaza was filled with competitors catching up with friends, grabbing some lunch or late breakfast and waiting around for the awards ceremony. Saturday, only a few people stuck around following their races, likely waiting on a loved one to finish before driving home.

All competitors were given a participation medal prior to the race rather than giving out medals according to finish. While I can understand some people despise awards just for showing up, eliminating the award ceremony and deciding not to post results downtown was a stroke of genius to avoid gathering. It may have upset a few of the competitors, but it was necessary to make the event the safest it could be and help show the way for other area races to take place.

The results were posted online not long after noon Saturday when, in years past, they may not have been posted for a few days.

It certainly wasn’t the same festive environment, but getting a chance to wave at familiar faces (even if they were hidden by masks), was better than not seeing them at all.

The Blair Regional YMCA deserves congratulations for not only coming up with a very detailed safety plan, but for following through with it and holding the competitors to the guidelines so that future events may be held rather than join the long list of missed memories from 2020.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael

(Results are published in the Mirror)

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