Runners high on helping

Published March 17, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - A long-running tradition, the crosstown Bay to Bay footrace also is earning a reputation for extending a helping hand.

For the second consecutive year, Emily's Team, named for a 17-year-old girl who battled leukemia, will recruit people to help fight the ailment through bone marrow donation.

Emily Lester is a Seminole High School junior who received a marrow transplant last year and is in remission. Wearing specially designed bandanas, some competitors ran in her honor last year and to remember Casie Snow, a young leukemia victim who died and who had been Lester's hospital roommate.

Lester is in Memphis, Tenn., this week, getting a checkup a year after the transplant. She plans to return late in the week and be on hand at the race Sunday and perhaps at the health and fitness exposition Saturday at the YMCA.

She said she is feeling much better than she did a year ago.

"I've got a lot more energy and stuff. It's been a slow process, but I'm getting better every day," she said.

The races might draw the biggest field since their revival in 2005, organizers say.

As of last week, registration was up about 23 percent over last year's numbers. About 2,000 athletes of all abilities are expected to take part in the feature race and its supporting 5K, mile and kids runs.

Volunteers to help with race chores are still needed, said Wendy Johnson of Motion Sports Management, which puts on the Bay to Bay. It's unusual for that to happen, and there is speculation that St. Patrick's Day, Saturday, may be tamping down enthusiasm for early Sunday work - although the holiday hasn't discouraged most runners.

"We are still really short-handed. Definitely, we need help on Friday and Saturday (at the fitness expo) and at the finish line Sunday," Johnson said.

To volunteer, visit online at www.runbaytobay.com or call (727) 367-7223. Volunteers get race T-shirts, after-race party privileges, and an invitation to a party Tuesday at Ferg's.

The race began in 1973 and quickly became a favorite, earning a monicker as "the race runners love to hate." Organizers still use the phrase as a promotional slogan. Its origin is the nature of the crosstown gallop: from Boca Ciega Bay to Tampa Bay, often into the bright, rising sun.

Back in the day, the race was run on Memorial Day weekend amid heat and humidity. With its new start much earlier in the year, the race is not as brutal.

Runners and others who wish to register as potential bone marrow donors can do so at the expo Friday and Saturday or at the race finish line Sunday.

The procedure is painless, requiring just a cotton swab passed through the registrant's mouth.

A special effort is being made this year to find potential donors for African-American and Hispanic leukemia victims. Donors for those groups are hard to find.

Lester received her blood marrow transfusion March 31. The donor was her sister, Catherine Lester, who will turn 16 on the day of the race.


Bay to Bay races

What: The Bay to Bay 12K (7.5 miles), 5K (3.1 miles), 1-mile and children's footraces.

When and where: Sunday. 12K, 8:15 a.m. start at Sunset Park (First Avenue S and Park Street); 5K, 7:45 a.m. at the St. Petersburg YMCA, 3200 First Ave. S; 1-mile and children's races at the Pier.

Fees: 12K is $30 through Saturday or $35 on race day; 5K is $25 through Saturday or $30 on race day; 1-mile is $15; kids' dashes are $12.

Health and Fitness Expo: Friday noon to 6 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the YMCA, 3200 First Ave. S. Late registration and signup to donate blood marrow also available.

Also: After-race-only shuttle back to 5K and 12K starting lines, 8:15 a.m. until noon. Cha-Cha Coconuts and the Columbia after-race brunch, awards celebration and party start at 8:30 a.m. Bay to Bay charities include the St. Petersburg Police Athletic League, the YMCA, Florida Blood Services and Tampa Bay Youth Running.

To register or volunteer: www.runbaytobay.com or (727) 367-7223.