At this year’s Freedom’s Run, kids ran free-spirited in the 1-mile fun run. Photo:

Though it’s been several weeks since Freedom’s Run was held here in West Virginia,  I am still receiving emails and from visitors thanking our neighboring towns for the friendly welcome they received as runners.  We would not have been able to pull off this event — marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, one-mile kids run — without the help of the volunteers, town officials, law enforcement, Shepherd University as host, WVU Hospitals East and Eastern Education Division as Presenting Sponsor, and dozens of other key sponsors. It’s good to be lucky too and we were blessed with a perfect fall day. We had over 2,400 official entrants from 42 states in the 5 events, including  300 kids in the Free Kids Fun Run.

Youth ruled the day as there were many small fries in the 5k in addition to the kids fun run.  All ran with a smile and many 5K kids lined up for the one-mile run after their event was done.  Running is easy for kids; when set free they just go.

My favorite story of the day belongs to nine-year-old Sam Wabnitz. Sam accidentally lined up for the Half Marathon (13 hilly miles) instead of the 5K.  Here, below, is the story in Sam’s words and those of his mother Jennifer. Sam finished in 1:53 and placed 128 out of 582 official finishers. Of course won, his age group! Thank you, Sam and Jennifer, for sharing your thoughts and smiles of the day.  See you at the next event. Children can do amazing things when you set them free.


Nine-year-old Sam Wabnitz with his mother Jennifer at the Freedom’s Run. Sam “accidentally” ran the half-marathon course in less than two hours!

Going the Half-Marathon Distance: Interview with Sam Wabnitz

Q:  How did you end up lining up for the half marathon?

Sam: It was an accident. We went to the start of the 5K.  We got there and a  race was starting. I heard the buzzer and saw the runners go, so I went too.

Q:When did you realize you were in the wrong race?

Sam: I took my sweater off at about 4 miles and someone saw my number and told me I was in the wrong race.

Q:What did you think then?

Sam: Who cares

Q: Did you have any idea how far 13 miles is?

Sam: Not really

Q: Did you consider at any time not finishing?

Sam: “No!”

Q: Did you get tired?  What did you do then?

Sam: I just walked when I was tired.

Q:Did you eat or drink at aid stations?

Sam:  Yes.  That was nice.

Q: Did other runners encourage you?

Sam:  Sure, they said “way to go” and stuff.

Q:How did you feel when you finished?

Sam: Tired and my feet hurt.

Q: Are you proud?


Q: Would you do it again?

Sam: Yes!


A Mom’s Reflections with Jennifer Wabnitz

Q:What was going through your mind when Sam set out on the half marathon?

Jennifer:  I realized Sam was “in with the wrong crowd” about one minute after the race began.  I cheered for him as he set off down King Street.  When I turned around I saw all these other children still standing there.  That’s when I realized Sam had started the half.  I tried to chase after him, but he was gone. I then looked at a map.  I spoke to a nice young woman at the bag claim area and she got the phone number of a volunteer at mile 6.  They were going to look out for him and tell him I was on my way and I jumped in my car and went to mile 6.  Several of my friends went by and told me he was doing fine. I stood there and waited for him.  I waved to lots of exhausted people and it slowly dawned on me; he had already passed.  I thought then I better go back to the finish line and see if someone else had brought him back.

Q: Were you worried?

Jennifer.  Honestly I was not worried about his physical state, but I was worried about what if he got lost.  What if he chose not to run anymore, how would he get back?  Who would he ask for a ride?  I had not rehearsed these questions with him because I knew that he could complete the 5K that he was signed up for.  I knew the 5K course.  I would have been much more panicked if this wasn’t our home town.  I had lots of friends on the course who were keeping an eye on him and thankfully one friend had a cell phone and she called often (thanks Teri Beibel).  It was also very nice of the race organizers just to let him keep going and not consider him to be “in the way”.  They gave him a half marathon finisher’s medal, which he proudly wore to school the next day!

Q: Did you consider pulling him from the race?

Jennifer:   Not even once.  If Sam is enjoying himself, let him go.  He is a smart little boy and he realizes when he has had enough. The  13.1 miles is apparently not one of his limits.

Q: Anything different in your perception of children and running?

Jennifer: Prior to the race I was happy that he was signed up for the 5K.  I knew he could easily finish and he was ready for a little more challenge than the fun run.  I did not even consider signing him up for the 10K.  Now, I am thinking differently.  I started to question, how did he do this?  Sam’s lifestyle mirrors interval training.  Sam runs everywhere he goes.  We play outside alot.  He runs at school too, recess, runner’s club etc. The longer the better.  Have fun.  Sam trains while he is playing all his sports, and while he is out there having fun.  He likes to eat healthy food. When he plays on a team, he gives them his very best effort: basketball, soccer, baseball.  He is a strong little boy with great determination.

He saw running as part of a sport, not actually a sport itself.  He really enjoyed the race.  He thought it was very fun that nice people gave him drinks along the way.  He tried some “Gatorade gel packs” that were squishy.  On the way home he asked me when the next one was.

On a side note, both Steve (my husband)  and I have completed marathons.  We are not runners now only due to injuries.  We too have been thrilled to cross finish lines.  We too have enjoyed the rush of race day.  Sam will have our support, no matter what distance he chooses for next year!