Kristi Schall and her mother, Debbie Schall of Brunswick, wrap up the Run for Independence in 2016. Courtesy of Independence Association

BRUNSWICK — The state’s largest fully inclusive run is going virtual this year in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The annual Androscoggin Bank Run for Independence, now in its eighth year, is Independence Association’s largest public-facing fundraiser. Last year, it drew 225 participants, raising nearly $25,000, according to Carlene Hill Byron, director of development and communications. This year’s theme is “Sticking Together While We’re Apart.”

Independence Association assists children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Midcoast and throughout Maine to live inclusively in their communities.

Funds from the run toward the organization’s health and wellness services, which include fitness equipment and a certified fitness trainer, Jim Franklin, who is preparing to be Maine’s first certified inclusive fitness trainer.

“There are lots of activities in Maine that target the special needs population but this race puts people with disabilities and competitive athletes on the same course at the same time,” Hill Byron said, adding that it’s an experience that has become really special for both parties. 

This year, people will not be able to run together, but she and organizers are hoping the spirit of the event will continue virtually. 

The 1-mile, 5k and 10k events will be held at their usual times between 8:30 a.m. and noon on Saturay, May 16, but instead of meeting at the Brunswick Junior High School starting line, athletes can “pick a favorite route, run on your treadmill, or do circles around your yard,” according to a press release.

Some teams, like CWS Architects in Scarborough, are planning to run together on Microsoft Teams, while the Brunswick Police Department’s Back the Blue team will model social distancing with a staggered start from Pleasant Street, according to the release.

Those running for time are asked to send in a picture of a tracker showing time and distance and the results will be logged to determine the top male and female runners in each event. 

This year there will also be some friendly competitions, with winners for best COVID hairstyle, funniest running costume, best mask, furthest from Independence Association’s Brunswick offices, best scenery and highest elevation.

It’s unclear how participation might be impacted, she said,  as some of the more serious athletes are likely to bow out with the absence of competition, but the virtual nature of the run allows more people outside of the local community or those who might ordinarily not be able to make it, to participate. 

Debbie Schall and her daughter Kristi have walked the one-mile event for years, and this year will be doing so “alongside” relatives in Michigan, Utah and California. 

Kristi Schall, 44, usually lives in one of Independence Association’s group homes, but as a kidney transplant recipient, she is considered high risk for coronavirus, and has been living at home for the last six weeks. The pair take a walk around the neighborhood every day, usually about a mile, and are feeling ready. 

“Kristi can only do so much, but she’s very proud of it,” Schall said. “It’ll be fun. Everything’s fun with Kristi.” 

“It’s always been a fun and festive day, there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” she added. “It’s a wonderful fundraiser for Independence Association and I’m so happy they have something like that that is so special where everybody can participate.” 

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