Divine Redeemer Catholic School resurrects longtime community 5K

By Maria Guzzo
Contributing Writer

FORD CITY – A group of parents from The Divine Redeemer Catholic School resurrected a longtime community 5K run, which had lapsed during the COVID-19 years, creating a runner’s high of cooperation between the school and area residents.

School parent and race co-coordinator Alan Buriak said they were brainstorming fundraiser ideas and considered reviving the race, even though none of the parent volunteers had ever coordinated such an event.

“Because of all that, we had no idea how the race would actually succeed,” Buriak said. “But it turned out to be our best fundraiser ever.”

Runner sign-ups for the 32nd Ford City 5K surged, and the July 2023 race ended up with 487 finishers, more than had competed in a decade. At its peak, the event boasted 900 runners annually in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

This summer, runners ranged in age from 4 to 86 and hailed from all over the country, Buriak said, because locals visit family for the Fourth of July holiday.

“Residents cheer you on and aim sprinklers into the street and they’re shaking cow bells,” Buriak said. “It’s really fun and a great community unifier.”

Tradition upheld that the race’s start and finish line remained at the community park, where a celebration featured live music, food and craft vendors, a fire company chili cook-off, a library pie-baking contest and naturally, fireworks, to close out the night.

Also harkening back to the race’s long history, race shirts were designed with a vintage logo and were embellished with a memorial to Sue Kijowski, a lifelong resident and Christ, Prince of Peace parishioner who participated in every Ford City 5K until her last at age 81 in 2019. She died in 2021.

The committee has already hit its stride and plans to bring the race back this July 6, setting a goal of 600 runners.

Event marketing included sponsored billboards, lawn signs, local radio spots and social media including its Facebook page: Ford City 5K and Divine Redeemer 5K Run/Walk Races. What’s more, runners glide past The Divine Redeemer Catholic School, creating additional recognition for the school.

Buriak and parent Andrea Arco led the effort along with school parents and staff and three dozen community volunteers. Buriak said original race organizer Jim Solak of Ford City provided lists of must-do items and volunteer and race contacts.

School Principal John Giancola put in the miles before the race, too, driving his truck along the route to place electronic clocks for runners to check their times.

“It’s a great community event,” Giancola said. “Residents are outside along the race route cheering, and it’s neat to see everyone supporting the runners and the school in this legendary race.”

Buriak said the process of the school organizing the 5K race directly led to formation of a school cross-country team, which he and his wife, Jessica, coached in the Diocese of Greensburg CYO league. The Divine Redeemer team had 26 students compete, and its junior JV team took first place at the championship meet.

To register for the 5K, click here.


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