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Girls’ Track Team Gets Happy

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By Alicia Dziak

On May 12, the Happy Half and 5K return to Ellicottville for the third time. The race, organized by Doug and Gwen Bush of Endurance Factor LLC, begins and ends at Holiday Valley, and the course takes runners over the rolling hills in Cattaraugus County.

Like any race, a lot goes on behind the scenes before the race and race-day, and the Bushes choose to work with local groups, which then, in turn, receive a donation. One group they have worked with over the years is the SGI girls’ track team.

“We started working with (race organizers) about five or six years ago with the EVL Half in the fall,” said SGI track coach Mark Heichberger, who said SES teacher and Ellicottville resident Mila Clauss connected them.

Heichberger added that when the Bushes started the Happy Half a couple years later and asked the girls to help, it was an easy yes. “The kids seem to have a great time and Doug and Gwen are great to work with,” he said. Among the girls’ responsibilities, they are in charge of putting the runners bags together on Thursday evening and handing out packets during the pre-registration on Friday,  “On Saturday, we hand out race packets, direct runner where to go, handle a bag check, hand out water and food at the end, and distribute awards,” Heichberger added.

For their work, the track team receives a donation, which they use to help defray the cost of their annual overnight trip. “This year we attended the Penn Relays in Philadelphia,” Heichberger said.

“I love SGI. They are wonderful and we love working with them,” said Gwen Bush of Endurance Factor.. “It’s just a great group of kids. They are fantastic and I couldn’t appreciate them more!”

Endurance Factor also works with the Ellicottville Sports Boosters in the same way, and Gwen said she really likes working with kids and “future runners.”

Heichberger agrees that it’s a worthwhile experience for his team.  “It’s a good experience for the kids to see an actual half marathon and to see what goes into putting it on,” he said.

At press time, there are still slots open in the race, but Gwen said they are going fast! Race day registration will also be available is space allows. For the latest info, visit happyhalfrun.com or their Facebook page.

Gwen also encourages spectators, and enthusiastically said how fun the race is to watch. “The runners love encouragement,” she said. The after-party, catered by Holiday Valley’s Centerplate, will also have food available for purchase to non-runners.

In addition, guests are asked to bring non-perishable food donations for the Ellicottville Food Pantry. After the race, Endurance Factor makes a food donation, as well as a monetary one, to the food pantry. “We always like to give back,” Gwen said.

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