Greek Fest Race Brings Together Gods, Families

The Greek god Apollo descended from Mount Olympus on May 27 to run alongside participants in New Orleans’ 28th Annual Greek Fest Race. Sauntering around the field with sun rays glistening on the gold sparkles he put on his body and a ring of laurel leaves on his head, Ryan Dendinger, 25, was one of the many participants in the annual race hosted by the New Orleans Track Club.

For more than two decades, the nonprofit organization that focuses on health and wellness through running has joined the coordinators of Greek Festival New Orleans to bring fitness and food to Bayou St. John.

“In the late ‘70s we decided to put a race at the festival,” Billie Sloss, president of the track club, said. “The festival was looking to bring out more people so we fixed it that directly after the race, runners go in free.”

This year’s event drew 1,500 participants, 200 more than last year, spreading across the field stretching, drinking water and jogging in place to prepare for the race.

The race attracted people of all ages. Carmen Young, 58, runs the race every year. This year, she brought a group of friends to join her.

“I brought my coworker. This is her first race and I wanted to support her,” Young said. “She is walking for health’s sake, which is the best thing you can do.”

Her friend, Andrea Foreman, 55, said it was good to see people who were young and old, slim and heavyset, all running the race.

There were two races at the event, a one-mile and a five-kilometer run. Five minutes before the first race a crowd of runners lined up at the starting line, eager to showcase their running ability.

Sweat poured down Patrick Gavin’s face as he bent over, trying to catch his breath after winning the one-mile race with a time of 4:24 seconds. Gavin, 27, was an avid runner in high school and as an undergraduate at Louisiana State University, but said that with 1,500 participants this was one of the biggest races he has run.

“I didn’t do much serious training,” Gavin said. “I did a few strides in the week to prepare myself, but that’s all. I am definitely going to do more of these to get back into running seriously.”

Also running in the race were many families, including those with infants. Sloss said that the track club wanted to make the run more inclusive.

Joel and Kindall James ran the race while pushing their 5-month-old infant, Jack, and said they found it comfortable to run.

“We knew it was a family event, which made it easier to come with the baby,” Joel said. “We are definitely going to come back next year and do it again.”

Runners paid an entrance fee of $15 to $30, depending on when they signed up and whether they were members of the track club. The money raised from the event will go to produce more races to benefit charities in the area. Proceeds from one of last year’s races went to develop a playground for people with disabilities in St. Tammany Parish, the only one of its kind in New Orleans.

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