The race begins at the south tube of the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken and runs a stretch of 3.1 miles to New York City and back.
The event is the only USATF certified 5K tunnel race in the country, and benefits more than 17,000 athletes of the Special Olympics New Jersey.
"This is my first time doing anything like this, it's very exciting and I'm really looking forward to it," said Sandeep Aggarwal of Weehawken. "There is a whole team of 12 of us that are running [from the Regal Point community] to raise money and benefit the cause."
The event is being presented by AmeriHealth New Jersey, the Port Authority of NJ & NY, the Lincoln Tunnel Administration and Coach USA.
The Port Authority of NJ & NY is a member of New Jersey Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics New Jersey, which is a volunteer statewide organization and last year raised over $2 million.
"Last year we raised about $2.2 million collected from throughout the state," said Larry Mays, race director and coordinator.
Another first timer for the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge is Weehawken resident Darian Adel.
"I actually found out about it because I travel back and forth through the Lincoln Tunnel on a regular basis, and they have a very large banner [advertising it]," said Adel.
After researching information on the run online, Adel signed up as part of the many runs he will be participating in this year in the local metro area.
"The main reason [I signed up] is because it's for a good cause to support Special Olympics New Jersey, and the other reason is that it's such a unique type of run. It crosses state lines and goes through where usually pedestrians don't have access. It makes it a unique experience."
So far 1,876 runners have pre-registered for the event with another 400 anticipated to register on site on race day. On site registration will begin at 6 a.m., and the run will begin at 9 a.m. come rain or shine.
"When I found out about this particular race they encouraged people to bring other participants, and my team has brought in a good 70 people so far," said Adel. "Hopefully we will bring in a few more runners and donations in for race day."
Partners for over 20 years
The Port Authority Police Department first became involved with Special Olympics New Jersey through the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run in 1982 after one of its officers, Steven Vitale, was asked to photograph the events. He was so moved that he asked the department to volunteer for the summer games that year.
Then in 1986 Port Authority Police Officers Henry Berrios, who has since passed away, Roger Greff, and Harold Piper, along with other fellow officers organized the first Lincoln Tunnel Challenge 5K Run/Walk.
"That first year we raised over $6,000 and over the years we have created a very successful organization," said Mays.
Mays, who is a detective for the Port Authority Police Department, has been with the department for 15 years and has worked on the event for 13 years. He has also run in the event three times.
At first, the event raised funds strictly through sponsors, but now more runners are doing their part to raise money.
"I remember we hit $50,000 one year and we were thrilled," said Mays. "Then a couple of years ago we added incentives. The more money raised you would get incentives like sweatshirts or tack suits. Now our runners are raising just as much money as our sponsors."
Runners go to the internet to sign up for the run, and then send emails to friends and family asking for donations. Currently the event has raised almost $70,000 in runner money alone.
"This year we are going to break $100,000 for the first time," said Mays. "Last year we raised about $80,000 and we have about $50,000 in sponsor money this year so far."
Building up kids and adults
Special Olympics New Jersey is a non-profit organization that provides year-round athletic training and competition in 23 Olympic-type sports for more than 17,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities or other closely related developmental disabilities.
The first Special Olympic Games were held at Chicago's Solider Field in the summer of 1968 as a collaborative effort between Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Chicago Park District. About 1,000 athletes competed in the 1968 games.
Since then, over 15,000 competitions in both summer and winter sports are held each year on the local, county, state and international level with more than two million athletes participating worldwide. Special Olympics New Jersey is authorized and accredited by Special Olympics Incorporated and the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.
"The athletes are unbelievable," said Mays. "I have six very healthy children thank God, and it's amazing to see what these families go through to raise their children, and the effort they out in."
Mays recalls talking to one parent, whose son, now 30 years old, used to participate in the Special Olympics, and is now independent and living on his own.
The self-confidence and the camaraderie that the Special Olympics gave him allowed him to do this; it's an amazing thing," said Mays.
Come rain or shine
As for this year's runners, they have been training in anticipation of the event, and are ready to go.
"Everyone has been practicing individually," said Aggarwal. "I have been practicing three to four times a week, so I'm pretty conditioned for it."
"I have done a couple of 5K practice runs in the local Hoboken and Weehawken areas, and when the weather has been rough I have gone inside to the New York Sports Club or the gym in my [home community]."
Free shuttle bus transportation will be available for the runners from New York on 41st Street between 8th and 9th avenues, and free parking will be available at the New Jersey Transit Bus parking lot adjacent to the Lincoln Tunnel Administration Building, located at 500 Boulevard East in Weehawken.
"With over 2,000 people going into the tunnel this is going to be quite an event," said Mays.
For more information on this or other events for Special Olympics New Jersey, or to make a donation, visit www.sonj.org or call (609) 896-8000.
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