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Runners begin the Women's Mile race during the Nash Health Care Rocket Mile on May 4 outside the Imperial Center.

Special to the Telegram / Les Atkins

Runners begin the Women's Mile race during the Nash Health Care Rocket Mile on May 4 outside the Imperial Center.

Organizers say inaugural Rocket Mile race enjoys successful launch

From Contributed Reports

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The inaugural Nash Health Care Rocket Mile had a successful launch on May 4.

Participants ages 3 to 73 showcased their talent and spirit to deliver a wonderful community experience. More than 500 runners, spectators and volunteers came out to enjoy a fun festive atmosphere at the Imperial Centre in downtown Rocky Mount.

The first-year event was coproduced by the Tar River Running Co. and the Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department. There were four separate one-mile road races on a USATF Certified course. The Men’s Mile started at 2 p.m. The Women’s Mile was next at 2:20 p.m. followed by the Boy’s Mile and concluding with the Girl’s Mile.

The Rocky Mount Police Department closed down two lanes of Franklin and Church streets so runners had a wide and safe route. The flat and scenic downtown course set runners up for a fast race, and they delivered.

The winner of the Men’s Mile was Musa Gwanzura of Roanoke Rapids with a time of 4:39. Musa was followed by Tim Surface of Raleigh and Christian Tippette of the Battleboro community.

Things really got exciting in the Women’s Mile where three former NCAA track athletes were part of an elite field. Crossing the finish line first was Andie Cozzarelli from Raleigh. The former N.C. State University standout finished in 4:55; just three seconds off the state road mile record. Kristin Sellers of Carrboro was second followed by Mariana Lucena of Chapel Hill.

After the adult races, the age 14 and under races began. The atmosphere was buzzing with more than 300 spectators waiting at the finish line. Once these young athletes made their final turn toward the finish, cheers erupted from everyone. The excitement from the crowd didn’t stop with the winners. The Rocky Mount community cheered in every child from first to last, making all of them feel proud of their accomplishments.

The top three in the Boy’s Mile were Kevin Pham of Rocky Mount, Michael Rooney of Raleigh and Benjamin Baxter of Wake Forest. In the Girl’s Mile, Grayson Tanner of the Battleboro community took honors followed by Brooke Robinson of Wake Forest and Caitlyn Barnes of Elm City.

Although many of the top finishers traveled to the race, it was an event dominated by the greater Rocky Mount area. More than 80 percent of participants were local runners. One big reason for this was the three schools that developed training programs for their students. Englewood, Red Oak and Swift Creek elementary schools all have sponsored “Endurance Clubs” during the past several weeks. More than 80 elementary school kids dedicated the time to train and race on Sunday.

Additionally, the Rocky Mount Rockets – the local Parks & Recreation track team – participated in the race. Their runners, ages 4 to 16, were dressed in new track uniforms and showed that their hard work and training is paying off. The program, coached by Mark Davis, trains children to compete in track and field events each spring and summer. The children run events ranging in distance from 100m to 3,000m.

The race would not have been possible without the support of Nash UNC Health Care. As the title sponsor, Nash UNC Health Care provided financial assistance enabling the Tar River Running Co. to produce the experience. From small things like custom race numbers to big things like live music from the Feature Attraction Band, this race delivered.

“Nash Health Care made this event special,” said Race Director Michael Forrester. “The entire organization got involved with the race. They are here being a part of what is going on. Forty-five employees are running, and another 30 are volunteering. It is awesome to see their commitment to the community of Rocky Mount.”

Many other businesses in the community also supported the event. Both First Carolina Bank and Bennett & Gulley Attorneys at Law were “Endurance Club Sponsors” which allowed the race to offer discounted entries for the participating elementary schools. Local restaurants Lou Reda’s: An American Table, Westridge Grill and Milton & Miles helped to provide post-race refreshments.

“Lou Reda is out here in the heat grilling up chicken and hot dogs for our runners,” Forrester said. “How great is that?”

After the race, Kelvin Yarrell, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said, “We are going to double the size of this event next year!”

The next Rocket Mile is scheduled for May 2015. For more information about the event, log on to www.therocketmile.com.