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Freedom's Run much more than a marathon

July 30, 2009|By ANDREW MASON

Mark Cucuzzella had just placed 11th out of nearly 1,000 runners -- and first in the Masters 40-plus age division -- at the 46th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in Washington County last fall.

But that hardly earned him celebrity status in his hometown of Shepherdstown, W.Va. -- just a stone's throw across the Potomac River from the middle miles of the JFK course on the C&O Canal towpath.

"I saw my friend, Lois Turco, in a small coffee shop in Shepherdstown. And she said, 'Didn't you just run the JFK?'" Cucuzzella said. "She said, 'You know, no one around here knows that event even exists.'

"I was like, 'Yeah, you're probably right. My family was down at the Shepherdstown bridge, and maybe a few others.'

"These events just aren't promoted here. They're promoted very well in Maryland, but in West Virginia the river is a boundary. But we're so close to these beautiful parks that we probably should start looking, from our side, at developing some events that would build interest in running and walking."

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By the time Cucuzzella and Turco left the coffee shop that day, the first Freedom's Run Marathon already was in the works.

It will be held Oct. 3 and will connect four national parks in West Virginia and Maryland -- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield and the Potomac Heritage Trail.

"We brainstormed about the 150th anniversary of the Civil War," said Cucuzzella, the event director. "John Brown's Raid is coming up this fall, and we thought it'd be cool to host some sort of event here that would link these parks -- start at John Brown's Fort, go through Antietam, come up the C&O Canal and finish in Shepherdstown."

Freedom's Run actually will be five runs, as the day also will include a half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 1-mile Kids Fun Run. All five races will finish on the football field at Shepherd University.

"With the marathon, you pretty much exclude 95 percent of the population that just wants to go out there and make themselves healthier," Cucuzzella said. "So we definitely wanted some other events."

A healthy environment is a top priority for the 42-year-old Cucuzzella, a physician at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine, and his race committee.

"We're all about trying to change the culture of how we live and view the land, from the kids to the older folks," he said. "We're trying to get people to get out on the trails and move."

Cucuzzella said he hopes to have about 2,000 total runners for the event. He said he expects the half-marathon to have the most participants.

"I anticipate the shorter events will be mostly local, but people will travel in for the marathon and half-marathon from up and down the East Coast," he said. "We've actually had applications come in from Vancouver and the West Coast."

While all those races in one day might seem like a lot to handle, Cucuzzella -- a longtime, competitive runner -- said he's confident he has enough of the right people helping him to pull it off.

"As a first-year event, our main goal is to do the event well," he said. "We want to make this a quality event and give people a great product and a great experience."

For information about Freedom's Run, visit the event's Web site at www.freedomsrun.org.

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