June 16, 2017 12:20 pm
Updated: June 16, 2017 1:26 pm

Better Winnipeg: Manitoba Marathon ‘huggers’ keep finish line tradition alive

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For more than three decades a special group of volunteers has been offering smiles and support at the finish line of the Manitoba Marathon.

The ‘huggers’ as they’re called, cheer on the participants completing their run, hand over the medals and most importantly give physical support to those in need.

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“There are lots of runners when they finish that need an arm to lean on or a shoulder to lean on while they find their walking legs again after being out there for hours,” Dean Favoni explains.

The math teacher at Dakota Collegiate has been recruiting students to volunteer as huggers at the Manitoba Marathon since 1992.

This year, 150 students from the Winnipeg High School have answered the call to get involved.

“It’s part of the culture of the school,” Favoni said.

The tradition dates back to 1984 when Jerry Ilcyna, retired biology teacher at Dakota rallied some students to get involved.

“Initially the timing was done with stop watches,” Ilchyna said.

“We’d have three or four people watching runners come in. I’d say you take the first one I’ll take the last one and we’ll interpret times for the runners in between.”

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Now that timing is done electronically, the emphasis for the students is on giving support to the runners as they complete the race.

“We hold their hand, give them high-fives, help them to the water station,” Kelsie Sloan said. The Grade 12 student has been part of the volunteer group since she started at Dakota four years ago.

“You just feel like you’ve done something good for people.”

Even though the school has been doing this for 33 years, Favoni says, finding volunteers isn’t difficult.

“Once kids do it once, they want to come back again and they drag friends that maybe didn’t do it before.”

And the experience of being at the finish line offers lessons far beyond the classroom.

“We see lots of emotion of people finishing the race, accomplishing personal goals.”

“It’s a great opportunity for them to get out of the school and give back to the community,” Favoni said.

The 39th annual Manitoba Marathon takes place Sunday, June 18, 2017.

 

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