'Hug an Athlete' raises nearly $3,000 for Belvidere Special Olym - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

'Hug an Athlete' raises nearly $3,000 for Belvidere Special Olympic Athletes

BELVIDERE (WREX) - Frigid temperatures didn't stop the community of Belvidere from supporting local athletes.

Hundreds of people lined up at Doty Park, for the 2nd Annual Hug an Athlete 5K.

"Thank you so much for coming, I think you're great." says Ethan Ries Special Olympic Athlete as participants run past him.

Ries is a participant at the Northlands Association for Special Recreation (NASR), a program through the Belvidere Park District.

Once a runner crossed the finish line, Ries and other athletes rewarded them with not only high fives, but hugs too.

"Everyone was yelling, they were all so excited. Giving high fives to everybody, giving out hugs," says Ray Kelser, a Hug an Athlete participant. "It was great, I loved it."

"It means a lot to see this many people come out and show support," says Adam Lehman, another Hug an Athlete participant. "It's not just a one day thing, it's something they will keep in their hearts until next year."

The event hosted by NASR welcomed more than 150 participants.

Proceeds raised go toward the nonprofit's Special Olympics programs.

"It allows us to give some scholarships, buy some new equipment, uniforms, things like that." says NASR Special Recreation Supervisor Kelly Sanford. "So they can get the best enjoyment and success in the programs that they participate in."

Sanford says the event brought in nearly $3,000, almost twice as much as last year's event.

Organizers say they didn't set a goal but went into this past weekend knowing every dollar helps.

"These guys make such a difference in everybody's life," Sanford adds. "They love life, every single one of our participants, and we want to do everything possible to give them the best quality programs that we can."

If all goes as planned, those running and walking will hit the pavement again next year.
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