Racers tackle obstacles in United Way benefit

SARASOTA — The United Way Suncoast Obstacle Course Race started as a fun, engaging way to get dirty for a good cause. In its second year, the roughly three-mile race represents much more.

It’s a metaphor for the trials and tribulations in everyday society. It’s about pressing through loss, whether it’s a lost of a job, friend or family member.

Although many of the 175 participants in the race came to have fun, crawl through tunnels, mud and barbed wire, everyone knew that their donation would go to a good cause.

The cause, like the nonprofit’s mission statement, was to create better opportunities for everyone in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Each $70 donation went to help programs such as Booker Middle School Resource Center’s Certified Nursing Assistant classes, where students will be able to attend tuition-free.

Mireya Eavey, president of United Way Suncoast, said the obstacle course is much different than many of the other fundraising events the organization does.

“By doing it this way, we get to reach people we don’t typically get to reach,” Eavey said. “It lets them know we’re here to help the community go from making $10 an hour to $25.”

For the volunteers, especially the young ones, it was more about the learning opportunity than giving back.

Jonathan Terry, the head coach of My Brother’s Keeper, an all-boys track and field club in Riverview, teaches his team that making a difference in the community is just as important as clocking speedy times.

“We’re here to volunteer and learn that as you grow up, you are going to be faced with tough decisions and hardships, but by the end of the day, this is all that matters, getting through the finish line,” he said.

Terry, along with 17 boys from the program, handed out medals, refreshments and cheered runners as they crossed the finish line.

One of those runners was Heidi Williams, who finished the obstacle course in 34:38. She won first in the 40-plus master’s race and third overall in the women’s category.

For Williams, running courses like these is an addiction. It helps her recognize her strengths and weaknesses on and off the obstacle course.

A competitive athlete her whole life, she said obstacle racing is unique because it brings out the humanity in everyone.

“We’re looking out for each other, encouraging one another to finish,” she said. Once you do one race, you’re addicted.”