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Distanced running

Hazleton Memorial 5K to return in virtual format

Submitted Photo The third annual 5K run/walk in honor of Dunkirk Police Officer Matthew Hazelton, who passed away in 2017, is taking place virtually this year from Aug. 6-8.

Normally, it’s western New York’s notoriously unpredictable weather that event organizers must work around each summer, but for anyone in the position of planning an event this year, the challenges have been far more complex.

Jennifer Hazelton, along with a committee of family, friends and volunteers, has created a new format for the third annual Matthew Hazelton 5K that takes into consideration Gov. Cuomo’s executive orders, the health and safety of all participants and even the weather.

Nearly three years ago, Hazelton’s husband, Dunkirk Police Officer Matthew Hazelton, passed away after a courageous fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A 14-year member of the department, Hazelton served as a K-9 officer during the last two years of his career and was active on the department’s Dive Team and Special Response Team. In 2018, Hazelton, the Dunkirk Police Benevolent Association, local businesses and hundreds of community members came together to honor Officer Hazelton’s memory in the inaugural 5K run/walk event to support the Matthew Hazelton Memorial Scholarship fund.

Each year, the fund awards scholarships to local students pursuing careers in law enforcement, and Hazelton was pleased to share that in just three years, the fund has already awarded over $8,000 in scholarships.

In 2018 and 2019, the 5K began at the Clarion Hotel and took place in June and July, respectively. Hazelton explained, “We were going to have it on June 7 this year while school was still in session and before people left town for vacation.” After COVID-19 broke out, the run was rescheduled for Sept. 20, but it soon became clear that an in-person run might not be possible.

“Things were opening up very slowly,” said Hazelton of the past two months. “There are still a lot of restrictions, and we aren’t really sure how September is going to look. We’re doing a virtual 5K instead of an in-person one from Aug. 6-8.”

The new dates are especially meaningful, as Officer Hazelton passed away on Aug. 6, 2017. Hazelton pointed out the many benefits of a virtual run, especially flexibility in location, time and even the weather. The virtual event begins on a Thursday, and while it may be difficult for some to fit in a longer run on a work day, participants have until 11 p.m. on Saturday to run five kilometers or walk one mile.

This year’s event will not include basket raffles or door prizes, as in previous years. “We rely on a lot of donations for the auction, and businesses contribute to the scholarship fund,” Hazelton said. “Nobody felt comfortable asking anyone for anything given the circumstances of the pandemic.”

Although there will be no in-person activities at the Clarion on race day, Hazelton hopes that the flexibility and extended timeline for the event will encourage more people to participate so that the scholarship fund can continue to help area high school graduates pursue their college and career goals.

Even during a pandemic, “Students don’t stop graduating from school,” Hazelton said. “We definitely want to keep adding to the scholarship fund so we can continue to help students every year.”

Registration is now open online at itsyourrace.com (search “Matthew Hazelton Memorial 5K”). Race registration, including a t-shirt, is $20 or $17 for law enforcement officers. Registration (no shirt) and youth registration are $12. Register by July 26 to guarantee shirt size. Shirt pickup is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 5; location to be determined. For the latest updates and questions, follow or message Matthew Hazelton Memorial 5k on Facebook. Hazelton can also be reached via email at jhazelton30@gmail.com.

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