MARQUETTE - Despite the chilly rain Saturday morning, the warmth of the community was in plain sight at the inaugural Run for Life in Mattson Lower Harbor Park.
The warmth came from participants like 13-year-old Ethan Wallner of Negaunee. As he signed in at registration, he presented organizers with an envelope stuffed with cash.
"There's at least $100," he said. "I walked around door-to-door with my sheet, telling people what I was doing, being in the run. They wanted to help."
The Run for Life was 10-kilometer and 5K races as well as a walk. It was an event to celebrate life and promote organ donation, benefitting Second Chance at Life and organized by Amy Harju of Marquette, herself an organ receipient.
More warmth on this chilly Saturday came from first-time 5K walker Cheryl Dix.
"I am walking because of my good friend, Amy," Dix said as she and her daughter, Stephanie Gallion, prepared to start their walk. "I support organ donation. My brother-in-law just had a kidney transplant and he's doing well. So that's why I am here."
Wendy Mardak and her daughters, Sophia and Olivia, came up from Madison, Wis., to help with the run, handing out "Donate Life" stickers to those waiting in line to get their event bibs.
Mardak is a hospital donation services specialist with the University of Wisconsin Organ Procurement Organization, which handles many transplants in the Upper Peninsula.
"The people in Marquette, particularly those working at Marquette General Hospital, are absolutely dedicated in their organ donation efforts," Mardak said. "This event proves that. Amy Harju is the brains behind this and the run would not be happening with out her. She's amazing."
Harju was a busy woman Saturday morning but received an enormous amount of support from a network of hard-working friends, who helped in the planning and did myriad tasks to help Run for Life go smoothly.
"It's amazing to have this many people coming out despite the weather," Harju said just before the start. "It goes to show you the type of community we have."
At least 200 people registered in advance for Run for Life, with scores more signing up when registration opened at 8 a.m. Saturday. The competition itself began at 9 a.m., with Aaron Clemins of Marquette the first to cross the 5K finish line in 23 minutes 10 seconds.
"It was wet but it wasn't too bad," Clemins said. "It was for a good cause so people will come out no matter what the weather is. For a first-year event, it was a good turnout. I hope it's even better next year."
And as they awaited the first finishers, Harju and her committee were already talking about the 2013 Run for Life.
"But I think we'll wait a week before we start planning that," Harju said with a warm smile.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.