UNIVERSITY PARK — As Dave Moyer ran through the Beaver Stadium players tunnel and darted onto the field past his competitors, he got a taste of what it would be like to be a football player.
Moyer, a Penn State senior and club cross-country runner, had just won the fourth annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Beaver Stadium Run — the largest single fundraising event in the organization’s history.
The race had an estimated 3,700 participants and raised more than $360,000 to help fund Special Olympics projects around the state and provide support for the athletes to attend competitions.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania CEO Matt Aaron has watched the event grow over the past four years and is proud that it has gotten as big as it has. He said he almost feels overwhelmed watching all the people turn out on race day and show support for the cause.
“We’re just thrilled and amazed and every other great adjective to describe it,” Aaron said.
Aaron got the chance to run the 5K this year and experience crossing the finish line for himself.
One runner, Cody Harris, of New Holland, was making his first Beaver Stadium run and was happy to get back into it after taking some time off from exercising.
Though he has no formal connection to Penn State, Harris came with his friends for Blue-White weekend and was excited for the opportunity to run through the tunnel and finish the race on the Beaver Stadium 50-yard-line.
“I just figured it was better than tailgating all weekend,” he said.
Before the races kicked off, large checks were presented from some of the top donors including Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano who donated $10,000 to the cause. The Sheetz Corp. was the highest donor with $100,000.
Lubrano said he is proud to support Special Olympics Pennsylvania and will continue to do whatever he can in the coming years. He added that the giving nature of the Penn State community should be something that defines the university.
“It’s very emotional,” Lubrano said. “To see the outpouring of support by the community is just incredible.”
He doesn’t see a ceiling for the event and thinks with everyone’s support it will keep getting bigger.
The race also had another first this year: honoring a legend from Penn State football past.
Former running back and National Football League Hall of Famer Franco Harris received the first-ever Special Olympics Pennsylvania Community Hero Award as part of the festivities.
It was presented to him Saturday night for his work in showing support and generosity to Special Olympics.
Aaron described Harris, who greeted every runner at the finish line of the race, as “the nicest guy in the world.”
The entire event has become part of the Penn State Blue-White tradition, Aaron said, something that has been a goal since the race first began.
But just because it has been on a record-setting pace every year doesn’t mean the success has to stop, he said.
As CEO, Aaron takes on a personal challenge to make the race bigger and better the next year and that is something that will continue for him.
“We can keep growing this thing,” he said. “We want to keep it growing.”
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.