A Hoppin’ Good Cause

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2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K Participants

Bunny ears, shiny medals and spring colors galore. It is no wonder the Westerville Bunny Hop 5K is one of the most vibrant races in town this time of year.

Cheery hues are not the only reason this races stands out. The motivation for many to run, walk or skip more than three miles on Saturday, April 4 is the Westerville Parks Foundation.

The Westerville Parks Foundation was founded in 2000 as a non-profit organization to assist the Parks and Recreation Department in funding projects and improvements outside the annual city operating budget.

“The Parks Foundation is a huge asset to the Parks and Recreation Department. There are elements in the community that you may come across every day that wouldn’t exist without it,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler. “The Foundation has helped bring the Train Depot, Mural on the Path and various public art installations to life in the City.”

And that is just skimming the surface of the Parks Foundation’s impact. Scholarships are awarded each year to numerous residents-in-need to supplement the cost of classes, passes or daily admissions to the Westerville Community Center.

“These scholarships are a life changer for many people. In many cases, an individual or family would not be able to participate in the wonderful programs the Community Center offers without a little extra help,” said Lisa Kluchurosky, Chair of the Westerville Parks Foundation. “Scholarship recipients get the chance to connect socially and improve their physical and mental health.”

Scholarship recipients say the same thing. Although she wishes to remain anonymous, one older adult shared her story of receiving a Foundation grant with us. She applied for aid two years ago after experiencing a drop in income.

“My doctor said I needed to walk, but I needed to do it safely. I live on a brick street in Westerville with no sidewalks,” she explained. “I’m in my seventies and use a cane, so if I fell on the bricks, it would take several strong men to lift me up off the ground.”

After accepting the scholarship, she started utilizing the Senior Center bus as transportation to the Community Center. And her walking around the track began.

“I try to go four times a week when possible and my goal is a mile. I am the slowest walker out there, and some days when I’m not feeling well I can only get a few laps in. But that is okay; something is better than nothing,” she said.

The positive environment at the facility keeps her coming back day after day.

“From the staff to fellow track users, they’ll watch me and say keep it up, you are doing a great job. That gives me more motivation to continue.”

Those encouraging words have turned into many friendships over time.

“One gentleman and his wife are there often. He speaks French and so do I. Now he brings me his French magazines when he is done reading them. Another lady loves to quilt and that is something we share when we catch up. So many people are friendly and willing to open up,” she chimed.

She has also seen an improvement in her health.

“My doctors have been thrilled with my progress. My blood pressure has gone down and my muscles are looser. Just a few weeks ago, my sisters came to town. I had not been going to the Community Center for a bit because I was afraid of falling on the ice and my left knee started hurting. They pushed me to starting walking again; and I went to the track following their visit and that knee improved. I just needed to get moving and my body responded.”

Although some days may be harder than others, she values the chance to get moving.

“The opportunity to use the track means the world to me. I thoroughly enjoy the Community Center. All the other benefits are just icing on the cake,” she said.

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Participants make their way to the start line at the 2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K

One of the largest fundraisers to provide scholarship opportunities to residents like this is the Bunny Hop 5K. Now in its fifth year, the Bunny Hop has truly become a community event.

“The 5K has something for everyone, from families to kids and elite runners,” said Kluchurosky. “We try to make it fun yet still competitive. When volunteering at the event last year, I was struck by how energetic and uplifting the atmosphere was. It was a little chilly that morning, but people were genuinely happy to be there and having a good time.”

“This race really goes to the heart of what parks and recreation is all about. It actively brings the community together in a friendly environment to enjoy one of our parks and the trails for a good cause,” said Auler.

To register for the upcoming Westerville Parks Foundation Bunny Hop 5K at Alum Creek Park North next Saturday, visit https://premierraces.com/westervillebunnyhop5k.


Parks & Facilities

Girls on the Run Promotes Confidence and Character Development

That first meeting. You may feel a little nervous; you aren’t sure what to expect. But you have the feeling it is the start of something new, exciting, even life-changing.

This was the energy at the first session of the Westerville Community Center Girls on the Run group.

The national program gets girls in the third through eighth grade active while developing their character and confidence. They are taught life skills through interactive lessons and running games over a 10-week period ending with a 5k running celebration. Last Tuesday night, seven girls in the third through fifth grade and three coaches at the Westerville site kicked off the season and began to learn about one another through a few ice-breakers.


For some of the girls, it is their first time participating in Girls on the Run. Fourth grader Janie Bowers (A.K.A. Joyful Janie, her new encouraging nickname at Girls on the Run) was inspired to sign up because of her mom, a marathon runner. She has cheered for her mom on the sidelines, but they have never done a race together.

“I really like to run and we have wanted to run a 5K together for a long time so we decided this would be the one,” said Janie.

Janie isn’t the only one new to Girls on the Run. The coaches are all first-time volunteers. Head Coach, Valentine Cabell, is excited to lead the group and see how everyone will grow along the way including herself.


Valentine is still pretty new to running.  Growing up, she struggled with her weight and thought she couldn’t run, but that all changed last December when she signed up for a half marathon on a whim. In just five short months, she trained and completed her first race ever in May 2014.

“I learned if you push yourself, you can do anything you want. I want the girls to feel how empowering it is to set a goal and achieve it,” she said.


Many of the activities will focus on teaching the girls how to positively approach situations in their daily lives. Franklin County Girls on the Run Council Director, Jessica Sparks said one of the exercises they do early on is a visualization activity where the girls sit with their eyes closed and picture how negative talk affects them and then how positive words influence them.

“How you think about yourself affects how you think about and treat others. We want the girls to understand every action that involves someone else can be positive or negative. Children can have a powerful impact in small ways from simply saying thank you to the lunch lady who hands them a tray to abstaining from gossip when it is around them,” said Jessica.


The running portion of the meetings gives the girls another healthy outlet to work through life’s challenges. Coach Valentine has experienced the social, physical and emotional benefits of running.

“I look at things in a different light, and don’t get as angry. I now have this positive way to deal with stress. If I have had a bad day, I go for a run and it helps change my attitude,” said Valentine.

And many others around Franklin County are enjoying working out with Girls on the Run. In 2010, the organization had just 60 participants per season and now more than 700 girls are involved this fall.

These hundreds of participants will come together for the 5K run on Saturday, November 15 downtown at the Columbus Commons. The run is open to the public and rather than being a competition, it is a celebration.


Fifth grader Rori Draminski is in her fourth season with Girls on the Run; and her favorite part of the program is the 5K. “I am so happy during the run. It is really fun meeting new people, being cheered on and crossing the finish line,” said Rori.

Until 5K time, the girls at the Westerville Community Center will continue to get together twice a week.

“It is really neat to see how the girls and coaches bond after the ten weeks. Those relationships become such an important part of the program,” said Girls on the Run Director Jessica.

We’ll follow up with Girls on the Run later this season to see how the group has transformed from its first meeting. For more information on the program or volunteering, visit girlsontherunfranklincounty.org.

Healthy Active Lifestyle

Are you ready for the heat?

There are a ton of great benefits to exercising outdoors this time of year. When you run or bike outside, you typically get a more strenuous workout than you would on a treadmill or stationary bike. Your body has a chance to soak up more Vitamin D from the sun, and people report feeling less stressed and happier when they engage in physical activity in nature.

In typical Ohio fashion, the hottest days of the year still may be headed our way. As you take to a park, your neighborhood or the recreational path system, here are some things to remember from our Fitness & Wellness Program Supervisor, Megan, to have a productive, positive and safe workout.

  • Pick the right time, sunrise or sunset. Your best bet on a hot day is to head out in the early morning or evening when your shadow is twice as long as you are tall. According to the National Weather Service, exposure to direct sunlight can increase how hot it feels by as much as 15 degrees.
  • The more humid it becomes, the less your sweat evaporates from your skin. This means your body’s key cooling mechanism is disabled. Go easy or go inside.
  • Guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine say to stay well hydrated throughout the day by drinking at least eight cups of water, and then make sure to have eight to 12 ounces about 15 minutes prior to your outdoor exercise session. Sip three to eight ounces every 15 or 20 minutes as you exercise, and don’t forget to drink after you’re finished working out.
  • Don’t forget to use sunscreen and when possible take shaded trails or pathway.
  • Wear loose, light-colored clothing to help keep you cool.
  • Eat snacks to maintain energy. Choose a juicy snack like fruit and avoid snacks like crackers that require your body to add water to consume.
  • Carry some form of identification on you. Ideally, you should have your driver’s license and/or a small card that lists your phone number and the number of an emergency contact. Additionally, bringing your cell phone allows you to stay touch with family and friends and, if necessary, connect you with emergency services.
  • Exercising with a partner or group can be a great motivator, but it also reduces your chance of being targeted. If one of you should get injured or sick, the other person is there to get help and reduce your vulnerability. If exercising alone, make sure someone close to you knows when you are exercising, where you are going and when you are expected back.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. It is best to be very familiar with your exercise route and know of any areas which may be potentially dangerous. It is great to get into the “zone” while exercising, but make sure to stay aware of where you are, who is around you and where you are going.
  • Listen to your body.  Stop immediately and take a break if you’re feeling dizzy, faint or nauseous.

If you are interested in structured exercise, each Saturday morning through November a group of walkers meets to jump-start the weekend with an hour walk and some sight-seeing along the way. For details on this program, click here.

Healthy Active Lifestyle