The scene at Sunbeam Lake park looked like the set of an epic movie on April 7 as a cast of a thousands swarmed to triumph over the adversity of autism.
The Children’s Foundation of the Imperial Valley staged the Third annual 5K Family Fun Run to raise funds to support autism therapy. This year’s theme was the superhero and competitors were encouraged to dress in the costume of their favorite character. All registered runners received complementary tacos, an event T-shirt, tote bag and a race medal.
Despite the heat, 950 runners arrived to show they had the right stuff but in the end it was Holtville resident Jose Arroyo who finished first clocking in at a fleet 20 minutes and 15 seconds. He ran most of the way with sibling, Johnny, but brotherly love was not about snatch bragging rights from the jaws of victory as Jose surged to the top of the pack with Johnny finishing fourth. Finish line confusion had Jose mistakenly dashing an extra 50 yards.
“They sent me the wrong way so I ran a little bit more but that’s OK. It’s good for the training,” said Arroyo.
Some of the youngest competitors were hot on the heels of the winner. Fifth graders Alexes Uhri and Daneli Acosta, finished at 23 minutes and 33 seconds and 34 seconds, respectively.
Daneli confided it was difficult but Alexes noted it was, “kind of difficult, but we’ll return next year.”
Added Alexes’ father, Steve Uhri, “Oh man, I’m very proud of her. She’s worked hard and practiced a lot.”
Physician John Dalle, event organizer with his wife Katalina Penland, was track side with their team
Radiology for Autism. Dalle is a radiologist at El Centro Regional Medical Center and was pleased the event grows bigger every year. What prompted Dalle to organize the race was seeing deficiencies not being addressed for autistic children, especially not getting them applied behavioral analysis, a cutting-edge therapy that has been his focus the last several years.
“The key is early diagnosis, early as possible because the longer you wait the worse the prognosis,” said Dalle.
Of event support, he noted, “Fitness Oasis (an Imperial gym) is giving away a 50-inch TV. But the beauty of the event is the community coming together for these kids.”
Leading Team Bradley was Francisco Lopez of Calipatria helping his four sons with their racing decals.
Bradley, a cousin of Lopez, has a daughter with autism and for Bradley’s heroic efforts Lopez named the team in his honor.
“My kids are all ready; all they want to do is run,” said Lopez.
Added Oscar Lopez, 11, “I’m really fast... Maybe I can win; I know I can do it.”
Yadira Chavria was running with her 13-year-old son who has autism.
“He’s one of the first here to receive ABA therapy,” she said. “It’s extremely helpful. It helps him socialize with peers and stabilize behavior.”
Team Gage, named for Gage Moreno, 3, who has autism, was accompanied by parents Michael and Edith Moreno who just moved to the Imperial Valley from San Diego. Edith wanted to race to bring awareness to autism.
“Since Gage started attending San Diego Regional Center for Kids he’s made a lot of progress on his speech and overall socialization,” she said.
Leading runners in Zumba before the race was Dalia Rodriguez, owner of Fitness Oasis, along with instructor Derek Gonzalez. Rodriguez stressed the importance of familiarizing the public with autism.
“People need to recognize early signs,” she said. “That’s the secret, identify autism symptoms.”