The Annual Rotary Unity Run has established itself not only as a favorite event for runners in Alaska, but has become a meaningful community event for local families who see running as a means of putting unity in community. The event created by Soldotna Rotarian Steve Stenga has taken on a life of its own; which has been carried on by Rotarians like Dale Bagley, Mark Dixon and Mike Crawford. The event was created following the opening of the Unity Trail between Kenai and Soldotna to underline the two community’s united effort at “Service Above Self,” with proceeds going for local Rotary projects such as handicapped Kenai River access, scholarships, community murals, literacy programs and many other local projects.
The race has drawn runners from as far away as New Jersey where a couple who met while running marathons came to Alaska for their honeymoon to race in the Unity Run to establish their commitment to their marriage and life together. This year there were great grandparents running with grandparents who were running with parents and their kids. “It’s great to see the community coming together in such a collaborative way. The Soldotna and Kenai River Rotary clubs always bring so much energy and history to the event, and this year marks the first time the Tsalteshi Trails Association has been involved. Though it’s not at Tsalteshi event itself, I’d like to think that we bring a good bit of race knowhow and coordination. But the main thing is celebrating what a wonderful community — in all respects — we have here on the Peninsula,” said Mike Crawford.
For the first time since the Rotary Unity Run was inaugurated, a Soldotna Rotarian, Mark Dixon claimed first place in the 10 mile event that starts at Kenai Central High School and finishes at Soldotna High School. Dixon is an avid runner and Soldotna City manager who has worked on organizing and improving the event for many year. According to Dixon the race was in its’ 157th year, “At least it seems like I’ve been running in it for that long,” says Dixon when asked how it felt to finally be the Unity Run champion, “It feels pretty good but you have to remember that none of the running studs entered this year, James Tangaro was out of state, Bill Coghill, Mark Blanning and Max Best and all the people who usually beat me in our running group weren’t here this year. That helped me out and yes paying them not to enter paid off,” he laughed. “It’s all about the bragging rights in this race and I’ve got ‘em for the next 12 months. This race is special because it’s truly a community event, not really a race that everyone runs for time, we run to promote families and give discounts for running familie. It’s great to see all the kids here,” he said. Following Dixon, whose time for the run was 1:14:48, was Jesse Kinkaid with a time of 1:15:10 and Derek Morgan at 1:19:04.
Repeating her 10 mile Unity Run 1st Place win in the women’s division was Susan Craig who recently moved back to Soldotna from Louisiana, “We thought this is a great place to raise our kids, family friendly atmosphere like you see here at the Unity Run and good schools so that’s why I wanted to come back,” said Craig whose daughter Emma ran in the 5K Unity Run, “I started running with my mom when I was six or seven and I am very happy that she has won her race two straight years, I may be able to beat her someday but not today. I like the short runs because you don’t have to train that hard, you can just go out and run have fun and meet a lot of really cool people,” she said. “You better believe I’ll be back next year to try for the three-peat,” said Craig clocking the 10 mile run in 1 hour: 18 minutes and 19 seconds. Coming in second to Craig was Jodi Hansen with a time of 1:31:28 and in third was Kelli Murray at 1:33:10.
Taking the 5 K Unity Run in the men’s division was Rex Shields crossing the finish line at 15:33.3 followed closely by the Jordan Theisen 15:49:6 and his brother Jonah at 16:219.8. For complete Unity Run results go to soldotnarotary.org.