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It was the day after a snowy and rainy mess in Gwynedd Valley, but the sun shined brightly Sunday afternoon for the 4th annual Alex Valeno Exceptional Persons 5K.
“I said it was probably Alex who is responsible for this weather,” Education Professor MaryJo Pierantozzi told the crowd of about 100 who came to walk and run the course around campus.
Valeno was a special education student at Gwynedd Mercy University in 2010, and played an integral part of helping the Special Education Club plan the inaugural Exceptional Persons 5K. That year, the walk had about 30 participants, and raised just a couple of hundred dollars to benefit individuals with exceptionalities.
In January 2013, Alex died from a pre-existing heart condition. She was a co- president of the special education club at the time, and her fellow club members designated the 5K in her honor that year. Since then, the walk has been known as the Alex Valeno Exceptional Persons 5K, and it has been steadily growing.
“We are creating awareness for individuals with special needs and the funds raised will go to charities and organizations that support those individuals,” said Jacqui Gallagher, a senior education major and presidential adviser to the Special Education club.
The Valeno family, including Alex’s mother, Pat, continue to support the walk each year.
“This yearly event is a way for us, the Valeno family, to keep Alex’s memory alive and continue the tradition every year since it was so near and dear to Alex,” Valeno said. “It started very small and each year it has gotten better and bigger. Alex would be so excited to see how much progress has been made in her memory.”
Since the inaugural 5K, participation has more than tripled. In the biggest event yet, 94 registered participants, and a couple of the four-legged variety, walked and ran in support. Fox 29’s Bob Kelly kicked off the race, and even took some video footage for his Twitter feed.
Pierantozzi sang the National Anthem and the Greater Kensington String Band, captained by GMercyU education student Jeff Moyer, entertained the crowd as they finished the course.