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MILE-LONG RACE ENERGIZES ART FESTIVAL

This was the seventh year for the Suncoast Arts Festival, but the first year for the Run for the Arts - and the first, organizers hope, of many.

Art usually stimulates the imagination, but last weekend the Suncoast Arts Festival added a physical challenge to its usual blend of music and crafts that fill the streets of the Shops at Wiregrass.

The seventh annual festival attracted large crowds to see painting, photography and other crafts that lined the streets of the retail center. For the first time, the festival included a 1 mile run around the entire mall. The aim of race director Stefanie Bracciale was to bring together her two favorite passions - art and running - to benefit arts programs for the children she works with in Pasco County schools.

"It's about the kids and getting them to come out and enjoy themselves," Bracciale said. "We want to encourage these kids to be involved in art, and this event is really for families to come out and enjoy a day at the festival. A run brings some more excitement energy."

The Run for the Arts on Sunday attracted a wide variety of age groups among the 50 participants ranging from ages 4 to 70. For Bracciale, organizing a run for the first time proved to be challenging, but she was able to rely on previous experience and the knowledge of a helpful staff to create the first of what she hopes will be a successful annual event.

"I've been a runner and a coach but this is my first time as race director," Bracciale said. "We've got excellent resources in terms of volunteers, and I've had help from people who have been race directors at other events, so I'm planning on this being a part of the art festival every year and growing into a big event that attracts a lot of families."

The run was comprised of a 1-mile loop around the Shops at Wiregrass on paved surfaces.

Participants ran for a variety of reasons, some looking forward to the pancake breakfast served afterward, others wanting to support art programs here in Pasco County. For Rebecca Musselman, fine arts supervisor for the Pasco County School Board, it was a chance to do something fun with her son and support the programs she is working hard to improve every day.

"I wanted my son to experience a run and this was a great opportunity to do it because it's for a group that supports what we do with the art programs in our schools," Musselman said. "Any time you can attract people to come out and enjoy a day full of art it's a good thing, so I think that this race is a great idea."

A contingent of Longleaf Elementary faculty and volunteers were on hand to participate, not only to support the local arts programs, but to finish the race in honor of Cathy Mansfield, a colleague who would have taken part had she not passed away last summer. For 69-year-old Robin Valzone, a volunteer at Longleaf, walking that distance on a reconstructed knee wasn't easy, but she was determined to do it to honor her friend.

"She did these types of races and came in last," Valzone said. "So we did it and we came in last in memory of her. With a replaced knee it felt more like 10 miles. This is my first 1-mile walk, but I did some other events at the school. I think it's a nice little event and she would have loved it."

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Fast facts

For race results

For official race results from the first Run for the Arts, visit www.coolrunning.com/results/12/fl/Jan22_Suncoa_set1.shtml.

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