Weehawken resident George Kallert estimates he has been through the Lincoln Tunnel thousands of times, but there are only two times he actually remembers the journey – when he and his wife walked it.
Their leisurely stroll underground wasn’t the result of a broken car, but rather part of the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge, an annual race and fundraiser for Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ).
This year, on April 17, Kallert and his wife will join family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for their third time, trekking through the tunnel as part of the Weehawken team.
“It’s not just on any old road or terrain. That’s what makes it special.” – Beth Conover
Kallert isn’t alone in his sentiment. Thousands of people turn out every year from dozens of states to participate in the fundraiser, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
“It’s unique,” said Beth Conover, the event manager. “There are several 5k road races and walks every single weekend, but this particular event encompasses both a wonderful charity and it’s a unique race; it’s not just on any old road or terrain. That’s what makes it special.”
The other characteristic that makes the event special is that it’s a mixed event of Special Olympics athletes and supporters of the organization.
According to Conover, the feeling of camaraderie is prevalent throughout the event – more than 75 percent of those registered to participate are part of a team.
A good cause
All proceeds from the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge benefit Special Olympics New Jersey athletes and help foster the Special Olympics’ mission to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
New Jersey is one of only a few states nationwide that still allows the athletes to participate in those sporting events free of charge.
Currently, there are more than 21,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities that train and compete throughout New Jersey in 24 sports, participating in more than 160 competitive events.
Stats and smells
Participants in the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge run or walk a 5K (3.1 miles) through the tunnel with the toll booths in Weekhawken marking both the start and finish of the race. There is a cone turnaround once participants reach the New York City side of the tunnel.
So what does running a 5K in a tunnel with thousands of other people smell like? Apparently not as funky as one might imagine.
“That’s the question a lot of people ask,” said Weehawken participant George Kallert with a laugh as he explained that the air quality is just fine.
The Port Authority closes the south tube the night before the race and begins to ventilate clean air in and out of the tunnel, which continues throughout the race with the air being changed every 90 seconds.
The road in the south tube is degreased the night before the event, and vehicles are directed through the center tube until the race has concluded.
For those who’d rather cheer from the sidelines, there are other ways to help out as well. Volunteers are always needed and donations can also be made directly to the cause on the sponsorship page of the SONJ website.
Let’s hear it for the home team
“I think the world of Weehawken and how they have supported us,” said Conover.
In addition to being the hosting location of the event, Conover said Weehawken provides priceless assistance through support, volunteers, and of course, participants.
Members of Weehawken High School Peer Leadership have been known to help out as a group each year, and have recently gone above and beyond by helping out at other SONJ events such as the North Jersey Bowling Sectional, an event for Special Olympics athletes.
This year, the township of Weehawken will once again sponsor the home team for the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge. Weehawken residents interested in participating can register online under the team name of Township of Weehawken Home Team 2011.
The team will assemble in a designated spot on the day of the challenge and walk/run through the tunnel together. Team members may also register to walk or run on that day.
For more information about the Weehawken Home Team, call the Weehawken Recreation Department at (201) 319-6061.
For further information about SONJ or the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge, visit www.sonj.org.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.