Hundreds hit the trails for annual Beach Lake Jamboree
An estimated 700 kids showed up Thursday for the Beach Lake Jamboree, an annual cross country running event that’s often the first race a child in Anchorage ever runs.
“Getting kids active and just bring the whole community together is the purpose,” said organizer Caela Nielsen of Ravenwood Elementary.
The 15th annual event was held on the cross country trails between the elementary school and Chugiak High, where a mass of parents and children gathered for the races. Sponsored by Healthy Futures and the Anchorage School District, the event was held under mostly sunny skies on the high school’s crowded campus, where parking was at a premium thanks to high school football, gymnastics and volleyball events being held simultaneously.
Waves of children hit the trail beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Kindergarten girls and ending at 7:15 p.m. with 5th and 6th grade boys. High school athletes from Chugiak and Eagle River High served as pace-setters and led the kids in pre-race calesthenics to the tune of radio-friendly rock and rap music.
Eagle River cross country running coach Jacob Bera said practice is technically over for runners who didn’t make state, but that didn’t stop the majority of his squad from coming out to help with the event.
“They look forward to this every year,” said Bera, who carried his own young daughter on his shoulders as he helped his athletes corral the young racers. “They have a blast.”
Students from very Chugiak-Eagle River elementary school participated in the event, as did students from Tudor Elementary, Ursa Major Elementary, Ursa Minor Elementary, Orion Elementary, local private schools and home-schooled kids. Nielsen said that in addition to the high school runners, wrestlers from Eagle River High and JROTC students from both Chugiak and Eagle River were among the volunteers. She said Bob Stehn of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage was also “a huge help.”
Nielsen said the event was first started by Wayne Armstrong, a physical education teacher at Birchwood ABC, whose campus is near the extensive Beach Lake Trails system.
“It was started as a community building event,” she said.
Nielsen sad the concept has since grown to include a North Anchorage Jamboree and a South Anchorage Jamboree — events Matias Saari with Healthy Futures now attract fields of a thousand or more young athletes.
Bera said the event is a great way to expose young kids to the fun of running a cross country race, and many of his teen athletes themselves participated in the event as children. That’s why he feels it’s important to continue supporting the race, and said he’s gratified when so many older athletes volunteer to help grow the sport.
“I think this is the night I am the most proud of my kids,” Bera said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentifed the school where Nielsen teaches.
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