Dozens gathered outside Jackson State University’s Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center recently for the 13th annual Sweetness 5K Run/Walk to help bring awareness about obesity.
The top winners in the men’s and women’s categories were Alex Love, a WJTV news reporter, and Logan Nave, a 19-year-old JSU junior psychology major from Meridian.
Alla Frank, assistant director of JSU’s Auxiliary Enterprises, spearheaded the effort that inspired these winners and others to participate.
“We were so glad that the rain held out for us,” Frank said. “We got all of our walkers and runners through the course. The reason the run/walk is so important is because we want to make sure that within our culture that we have an awareness for physical health. Mississippi is in the Top 3 for obesity.”
The winners, surprised by their top finishes, endured a challenging course.
A native of Maryland, WJTV reporter Alex Love finished No. 1 in the race. He’s been in Jackson just five months but said he’s adapting well in the hospitality state. “This was a tough course. I ran Division I in college, but there were a lot of gradual hills on this race course. But it was pretty balanced. I was proud of myself by keeping up to the front and pushing from there.”
Love described Payton as a legend but was unaware that he was a JSU alum. “This whole race is called the Sweetness 5K to fight obesity. This is what Walter Payton would have wanted. He was in great shape and cared about the community. Running brings people together and gets them healthy,” said Love, who had competed competitively in high school and then during college at the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Meanwhile Nave captured the women’s crown.
“The race was very fun and kind of challenging with a lot of turns and a long way to go,” said Nave, surprised by the outcome.
“I expected not to quit, but I didn’t expect to be the first among females. Three miles is longer than you think. This is my first race. I know that the cause behind this race is very important. I wanted to come out to bring awareness about health and the Army,” the JSU cadet said.
Another surprised overall winner was third-place finisher Jackson White. The 11-year-old from Bailey APAC Middle School wants everyone to remember his name because he aims to be a future Olympic contender in 10 years.
As a result, he said he wasn’t so surprised by his performance. “After you’ve done this for as long as I have it kind of gets easier.” He said the most difficult part was when “every time I reached a checkpoint, somebody says you only have a little ways to go. Then, someone else tells you that you have two more miles. That was the hardest part because I started speeding up trying to get a better time. However, I realized that I needed to conserve some of my energy.”
‘I like competition and winning’
He credits his mom for getting him into running although “I really don’t like running, but I like competition and winning. But if that’s what I have to do to win, I’ll keep doing it.”
His mother, Tiffany Jackson, said, “I knew he had a lot of energy, and running is a great way to get that energy out. And with his size I felt this would be the best thing for him.”
Jackson said she isn’t surprised that her son performed well at this level and at his age. “He’s been doing pretty good. The first year he ran the Blues Marathon he came in first in his age group. He started running two years ago. We go to the track. He does two miles, and I do one. He still beats me every time. I’m getting him ready for college scholarships.”
Like so many others, Jackson said the 5K cause is vital.
“It’s so important to get our communities into fitness – our blood pressure down, our heart rates up and wiping out diabetes in our communities.”
Because of this year’s success, Auxiliary Enterprises is now expecting an even greater turnout next year, Frank said.
“We’re having a blast and hope to see everyone again for the 14thannual event on April 4, 2020,” she said.