5,000 run the Ben Franklin in school fund-raiser
In a matter of seconds Sunday, the Ben Franklin Bridge went from desolate to swarming with traffic - foot traffic - as more than 5,000 runners and walkers participated in the 12th annual Run the Bridge.
"It's cold, but exciting," said Lisa Dipaolo, lined up with her husband, Anthony, at base of the bridge in Camden. Five minutes later, they took off, aiming to finish the 10K course in under an hour.
Runners were treated to a beautiful view along the course: across the bridge and back, through Camden streets, to the finish line on Campbell's Field.
Although chilly, the weather this year was good for running - no rain, a little wind, and a pastel-striated sky as the sun rose behind the Philadelphia skyline.
"You can't beat running over the bridge," said Mike Cortese, of Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood. "You see the skyline, a sea of people going over with you, and to the left and right, nice views of the Delaware."
David Goldstein, 45, of Voorhees, agreed: "Part of a good run is the view. It motivates and inspires you to run even faster."
But Goldstein's real motivation for this race was his son Josh, 18. Josh is a student at the Larc School, a Bellmawr nonprofit for children with moderate to severe disabilities.
Josh, reclining in a wheelchair with a red blanket and a huge smile, was ready to go, too. Goldstein said he would push his son "all six miles across the bridge."
Run the Bridge started as a Larc School fund-raiser in 2002 and has since raised more than $2.7 million. George E. Norcross III, a part-owner of The Inquirer, is the event's chairman and cosponsor.
Jessica Iacovitti, 34, a Larc teacher, wore a blue shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of her students, 12-year-old Phoenix. "He's awesome, amazing, brilliant," she said. "He makes me laugh and smile every day."
The runners' registration fees help the school bring in physical, speech, and occupational therapists; adaptive exercise equipment; and technology such as iPads and electronic whiteboards.
For students like Phoenix, who is on the autism spectrum and has anxiety "about everyday tasks that we take for granted," Iacovitti said, such technology makes interactions easier.
Many of those who came to Camden on Sunday had no connection to the Larc School.
Terry Farrell of Runnemede stood on the south side of the bridge, holding a sign and cheering for his son Terry, 30, and daughter Tina, 33.
Farrell said his children had been planning and practicing for the race since the spring and would not be deterred, even though Tina was found to have breast cancer a few weeks ago.
"This is a very special race for our daughter," Farrell said. "She's very determined to maintain what she had planned."
Tina's brother decided to stay at her side throughout the race, and her parents and boyfriend came to offer support.
For others, Run the Bridge was a chance to train for bigger events.
"It was good timing to get on track and in shape for the Broad Street Run," in May, said Lauren Hofmann, 34, of Mount Laurel. "It's hard to stay motivated when it gets cold."
Hofmann said the organizers did a great job shepherding 5,000 people to the starting line. "Compared to Broad Street, it went very smoothly," she said, sipping water at Campbell's Field after the race.
Many people sang a different tune once they tried to leave. Hundreds of vehicles were stuck in the parking lot for nearly an hour, waiting for roads - and the bridge - to reopen.