The sun rose this Sunday over Hammond’s Wolf Lake Pavilion to a great crowd for the city’s second annual Race to the Rescue - an event that sees competitors compete in a 9K foot race around Hammond’s Wolf Lake, and a 5K race also held along the shores of Wolf Lake, with the main event being a whopping 20-mile bike race throughout Wolf Lake Memorial Park. Each race provided its own challenges for the racers.
The event is held to benefit The Region Police Pipes and Drums Band and the Hoosier Burn Camp through the Hammond Police and Fire Departments, respectively.
“We always want to support first responders,” said Jill Gajewski, the lead coordinator of the event, “We have really awesome Police and Fire Departments.”
The event is held annually in memory of the tragic terror attacks on September 11th, 2001 and designed to give back to Hammond's first responders. It’s also held as a give-back to organizations that do their best to make the community a better and safer place to live.
“[The Police and Fire Departments] are constantly doing collections to give back to the community," said Gajewski, “This is something were we could all come together at this time of year and look at everyone who’s running towards the danger and honor them.”
The event was hosted by the Hammond Port Authority, which runs Wolf Lake Memorial Park. Milan Kruszynski, Director for the Port Authority, was there assisting Gejewski in making sure the event was running smoothly.
“[First Responders] protect us, they serve us, they’re there when we need them,” said Kruszynski. “Any time we can give something back to them in the form of a donation or a little bit of help, we try to do that.”
The Region Police Pipes and Drums band had a member, Andrew Laurinec, present to play the bagpipes before the event and as each race kicked off. Laurinec was honored to be a part of the day.
“I love it,” Laurinec said of the event. “It’s a good chance to bring the community together.” Laurinec emphasized how much help that an event such as this can help the Pipes and Drums band, which plays during funerals for fallen officers and veterans.
“It means a lot to us,” said Laurinec, “We solely work on donations from the public.” Their job isn’t easy, as most of the band’s expenses end up coming out of the members’ own pockets. “These donations are really great to help us do what we do,” said Laurinec.
For the community, the event was more than a way to honor our veterans and first responders, but a way to honor each other and build a sense of teamwork. During the 5K race, a team of students from St. John Bosco School in Hammond helped the last member of their team finish the race by going back along the track and running alongside him, cheering him on the entire way.
William Laramie, who has Usher’s Syndrome, a degenerative disorder which causes him to progressively lose both his sight and hearing, was also running in the race with his sister, who also has Usher’s.
Even though he lives with Usher’s Syndrome, Laramie isn’t letting it slow him down.
“This is my first race since I was in college, so it’s been 20-some years,” Laramie said, “I got motivated because I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. You’ve gotta start small.”
By far, the main event was the 20-mile Bike race, which Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott participated in to honor Hammond’s first responders.
“We don’t really have a lot of competitive bike races in the Region,” Mayor McDermott said. “So we started this in commemoration of our first responders that risk everything on a daily basis.”
Mayor McDermott had a friendly competition with the other first responders in the race: beat the mayor in a race, and get a free day off work.
“My goal isn’t to win the race,” said Mayor McDermott with a smile, “It’s to beat the employees.”
In the end, however, the mayor came in behind several city employees, and granted each of them their reward on the Wolf Lake Pavilion’s stage after the race. Mayor McDermott closed with these thoughts:
“It was tough and hard and windy, but it’s all about raising money for charity and staying in great shape.”