Matt Prosek has been involved with Special Olympics Pennsylvania for years but he had never run in the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run before Sunday.
He decided he wanted to change that so Prosek began running on the treadmill for two hours each morning to get in shape and give it a try. And that hard work paid off Sunday when he and about 4,000 other runners participated in the 5K or 1-mile walk, which started outside the stadium and ended on the 50-yard line.
Prosek, of State College, said he was able to get into a good groove out on the course and hit his stride after all the training.
“I feel great,” he said, adding that it wasn’t much different than putting in miles on the treadmill. Prosek also has gold, silver and bronze medals in tennis from the Special Olympics summer games.
The fifth annual run continued the steady growth of the event, which has become a staple to wrap up Blue-White weekend with a unofficial fundraising total of at least $400,000.
Sue Paterno, wife of the late, legendary football coach Joe Paterno, was blown away by the success of the race.
The team attracted more than 250 volunteers this year, which she said is reflective of the giving nature of people in State College.
“It’s just amazing. This is a great place,” she said. “I don’t know any other place that would get so many volunteers.”
The race eclipsed the previous record of about $350,000 from last year and is Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s second biggest fundraising effort of the year behind the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge, spokesman Eric Cushing said.
Despite the race’s massive growth, Cushing said he expects that it will continue to get bigger year after year and that there may not be a ceiling.
Cushing cited Pat’s Run, honoring fallen solider and Arizona State football player Pat Tillman, which attracts more than 30.000 participants, and the University of Wisconsin’s Crazylegsrun, which garners more than 20,000 people each year. With continued effort, he is hoping the Paterno run could someday come close to those numbers.
“We think we’re onto something great and who knows what the limit is,” he said. “But there are a couple of runs that have just blown the roof off with crazy numbers.”
One unique thing about the Beaver Stadium run is the partnership with Penn State, he said. People don’t normally have the chance to run through the stadium tunnel onto the field, so he said that perk could continue to attract people in larger numbers in the future.
The race also featured a chance for people to high-five former Penn State player and National Football League Hall of Famer Franco Harris, who greeted each 3-mile runner and 1-mile walker at the finish line.
Cushing praised the hard work of the Paterno family and the rest of the Penn State community for getting the race to the point it’s at now.
“The power of Penn State, (and) the power of the Paternos, it’s just incredible,” he said.