NEW PORT RICHEY — More than 400 runners and bikers piled on to shuttles Saturday and made their way into the woods at Starkey Wilderness Park to test their endurance.
The annual Pasco Challenge, a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Family Organization, included a 5K, 10K and half marathon races that attracted runners of various experience levels, while the 1-mile fun run bike tours drew a number of other enthusiasts. One of four premier fundraising events for the organization, the race has raised more than $20,000 in the past and organizers expected about the same this year.
"We had the most preregistered runners this year that we've ever had (438) so I wouldn't be surprised if we went over $20,000 again this year," executive director Dominick De Petrillo said. "The race does well, I think, because Starkey is one of the most enjoyable park venues for a race you can think of."
The Pasco Challenge was once known as the Chasco Challenge, but the name was changed two years ago when the event moved up in the calendar year. It is no longer part of Chasco Fiesta.
Weather nearly threatened to shut down Saturday's races, but to the relief of De Petrillo and his more than 70 volunteers, the Starkey trails stayed dry for the event.
"We were very pleased with the park personnel and volunteers who are crucial to this event's success," De Petrillo said. "We were very lucky the weather cooperated because I worried that it was going to rain. People are always happy with this event because they want to be part of fundraisers where the money stays in their local area and we are a local organization."
The race courses were set up on Starkey's miles of paved pathways. The beauty of the surrounding environment is certainly part of the attraction for runners, but most were in attendance for the cause.
First-time 5K competitor Mike Muoio raced because his girlfriend got him involved, but he was happy he took on the challenge after he crossed the finish line.
"I didn't do too bad, so it turned out to be a lot of fun," Muoio said. "This is a good family event. I haven't had a lot of experience dealing with Alzheimer's patients, but what I like about this event is the cause that it's for and you get to see and meet people from the organization you're helping."
For Trinity's Jeff Poe, a former certified nursing assistant, the attraction had little to do with a chip-timed race or a Saturday morning jog along a nature trail. Anything he can do to give his support to an organization that is looking for effective treatments for Alzheimer's is worth his time.
"I worked for four or five years as a CNA with a lot of Alzheimer's patients and I've seen how difficult the disease is for those people to deal with," Poe said. "The park is beautiful and the run is nice and straight, just the way I like it, but the main reason to be out here is that it's for a good cause and it's something I want to support."
The money raised goes toward helping Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers. De Petrillo, who has organized this event since its inception 13 years ago, said the organization's success and longevity come predominantly from events like the Pasco Challenge.
"We get no government assistance, so these fundraisers are all we have to garner funds," De Petrillo said. "We gave about $48,000 last year to a program for caregivers who need a break. We help people suffering from any kind of dementia, whether it be Alzheimer's or any other form. Without events like the Pasco Challenge we just couldn't do it."