HUNTINGTON -- It's not just a race.
That's a common sentiment that was shared Sunday at the 4th annual Fit Fest at Ritter Park.
The event is hosted yearly in the park on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It raises money for the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH), a pedestrian/biking trail named for a Barboursville High and Marshall med school graduate who was a rising star in Washington in the field of public health, when his life was cut short on Sept. 11.
Fit Fest honors him by raising money for a cause that was dear to him, fighting obesity, as well as well as simply giving members of the community a plain old good time. Along with races for kids and adults, the event featured a climbing wall, face painting, inflatables, music and more.
Husband and wife Lesh and Jos Patel of Barboursville were there to participate in the 5K, Lesh running and Jos walking. Their 12-year-old son ran as well.
It's a good event, all-around, Lesh Patel said.
"We were watching the little kids running -- it's great," he said. "It's not just show-up-and-run-a-5K. It's the whole atmosphere."
Jenninfer Collins of Proctorville, Ohio, was there with her sons, 6-year-old Christian and 3-year-old Xander. The youngest boy ran the 50-meter race, and the older son ran a mile in nine minutes and 16 seconds.
Mom was proud, and said that she and her husband have been training for some half-marathon events, including the Marshall Marathon coming up in November, and they thought Fit Fest would be a fun way to get the kids involved.
"There's so much childhood obesity. You have to keep them active," she said.
That's a driving force for Ken and Sharon Ambrose, parents of Paul Ambrose, who founded the event four years ago and have worked tirelessly with the help of the Rahall Transportation Institute to raise money and make progress toward the PATH.
RTI Director Bob Plymale said Sunday that PATH fundraising efforts exceeded their $100,000 goal this year, a combination of grants from various individuals and organizations and race fees. More than 550 signed up for the adult races, as well as about 80 small children in the free dashes and probably about 100 in the kids mile and half-mile races, Plymale said.
Parts of the PATH are already existing, but much more work is needed to connect it into a city-wide loop. Plymale hopes some new parts will be in use by summer 2013.
Phase I of the PATH construction includes parts of Guyandotte, the West end of Huntington and Westmoreland and Harveytown, totaling 10 miles, Plymale said. The bid for construction was advertised on Sept. 4 and will be again on Tuesday, Sept. 11. Bids will be received on Oct. 2 and Huntington City Council will have two readings, with a contract expected to be awarded at the second reading on Oct. 22, Plymale said.
Phase II of the project will include design and construction of the bike pathway bridge over Hal Greer Boulevard from Ritter Park to Cabell Huntington Hospital, and a section on the floodwall along the Ohio River from 3rd Street West to Harris Riverfront Park and then to 24th Street. Council must hire a designer for that phase, and council members first will have two readings, with a final reading scheduled for Oct. 8.
"We're making a lot of progress," Plymale said. "That will include approximately 18 miles."
He thanked the sponsors and volunteers for the event, and Charles Holley of the city of Huntington for their help and support.
The progress is good news, Ken Ambrose said.
"We're really happy to hear the update and that the bids are going out," he said.
In the meantime, he and Sharon were busy greeting friends and watching families, friends and competitors throw themselves into some outdoor exercise during a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the park.
"It seems like there are so many children and that it just gets bigger," Sharon Ambrose said.
Chris Michael of Huntington was there to run the 5K with his wife, Tiffany, and two sons.
Tiffany Michael ran it for the first time last year and inspired her husband. He quit smoking, started running, lost 30 pounds and feels noticeably better, he said. He started on the treadmill before venturing outside, and said now the Michaels clan is having a good time exercising as a family.
'We go bike riding and have a great time," he said.
Fit Fest is a way for the whole family to get in a run, while supporting a tremendous cause, he and others said.
"It's fun. It's such a cool event," he said. "It's not just a race."