On Oct. 26, 2002 that Harbor Link/The Estates resident Jon Stein ran his first Great West Chase.
It was the inaugural year of the race and it saw fewer than 200 runners lace up and take off down Linebaugh Avenue while homes in West Park Village were still under construction.
With so few participants that first year, the Westchase Starbucks even donated a half pound of coffee to put in each runner’s race bag.
Back in 2002, race organizers on WOW staff didn’t know whether the event would catch on or even grow.
But catch on it did.
Last year nearly 1,200 runners crossed the finish lines of the event’s three races: a 5K, a 10K and the Kids Fun Run. Since 2002 the event has allowed WOW to make $305,000 in charitable donations.
Two things have remained consistent across the 18 years of the race. The proceeds of the charitable event have always benefitted literacy in some way.
And on the morning of the race, Jon Stein will arrive at the starting line at the base of Montague street in West Park. He’ll wish WOW staff members, who have been working since 4:30 a.m. setting up the event, good luck, and then take off at 8 a.m. for the start of the 5K.
Stein has run in 17 consecutive Great West Chase races. Saturday, Oct. 26 will mark his 18th. He hasn’t missed a single one.
“It’s a great race with great beneficiaries, and it allows me to show support for Westchase and the WOW,” said Stein, who has served in multiple roles on the WOW Board of Directors during that time.
Stein, an avid runner, participates in roughly 20 different races each year and recreationally runs 13-15 miles weekly for exercise.
Over the last two decades, what changes in the race has he been most struck by?
“Its expansion to include the fun run and 10K and its increase in the number of participants,” he said.
Last year he ran a solid eight-and-a-half-minute mile and his best time for the 5K was 23:46 in 2013.
This year he’s running in support of the race’s beneficiary, Woodbridge Elementary in Town N Country. The school is located just off Sheldon Road between Waters and Hillsborough Avenues. Woodbridge is close by, a mere 3.4 miles from Westchase Elementary, one of the most affluent elementary schools in Hillsborough School District.
Those 3.4 miles, however, bridge two very different worlds. Ninety percent of Woodbridge Elementary’s students qualify as financially disadvantaged and the school is 90.1 percent minority. A surprisingly high percentage of its students are bilingual. They hail from surrounding neighborhoods dominated by immigrants, where English often isn’t spoken at home.
Many of its students don’t even have books at home.
One dream of Woodbridge Principal Sara Jacobsen-Capps? To build the school’s classroom libraries and give Woodbridge’s all 680 kids a handful of books to take home and call their own. As part of the race, WOW is conducting a book drive for the schools’ kids.
“We hope all families in the Westchase and Northwest areas will take a few moments to go through their family bookshelves to identify gently used books they are willing to now give to kids with no books at all,” said WOW Business Manager Leslie Blaze, the race chair.
Donations of new or gently used books can be dropped off at the Westchase Rec Center, located at 9791 Westchase Dr. in The Bridges, during its hours of operation (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.) A donation box will be located just inside the center’s doors. WOW hopes all race participants will bring at least one elementary level book to packet pickup at the Westchase Rec. Center on Thursday, Oct. 24, from 10 a.m-1 p.m. and 3-7 p.m.
Prospective race participants can visit www.TheGreatWestChase.com for detailed race information and registration. A registration form is located in this month’s magazine inserts.
Multiple volunteers are needed to help make the event a success, from preparing race bags to helping with early morning registration on race day. “This event takes the whole community from start to finish and any group or organization wanting to be a part of it is welcome,” said Blaze.
Interested volunteers can email email@example.com.
Each runner will receive a fun T-shirt with race mascot “Chase” and a finisher medal. After running, they’ll join a great post-race party featuring PDQ, Carabba’s, Mother’s and Irish 31, Froyo and Bahama Bucks and a beer truck from Peppin and Tampa Bay Brewing Co. Those who remain for the awards ceremony (recognizing the top three finishers, male and female, in five-year age groups) will participate in the race’s popular raffle. The Great West Chase also recognizes runners completing their first 5K or 10K.
While not required, the race enthusiastically welcomes runners who participate in Halloween costumes.
Beginning in West Park Village at the base of Montague Street, the race proceeds west on Linebaugh Avenue (and, in the case of the 10K, north on Countryway Boulevard) before returning and finishing near its start. The kids’ run stays on the internal Montague Street loop in West Park Village.
If you would like to sponsor the race or volunteer, please contact Leslie Blaze at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
One thing is certain. On Oct. 26 Jon Stein will be there again. “It’s a great community event and I encourage everyone to come out and enjoy the event, whether as a runner, a volunteer or a supporter.”
By Chris Barrett, Publisher; Cover photo by James Broome Photography and Pat Duffey