CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- For 10 years now, there has been a 65 Roses 5k runners' road race beginning and ending at Lee University, after two years as a fundraising walk. The Great Strides event benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation started with Lee people and remains a major activity for the campus, but its attraction and effects by no means stop there.
Caleb Morgan, a Lee runner through last year, and Lee senior Maggie Opelt repeated Saturday morning as the overall winners -- and Morgan also won in 2007 -- but they had to beat more challengers than ever before.
"We had 822 registered for the 5k," said Dr. Bill Estes, a faculty member who has been the race director throughout its history. "That's the most we've ever had. We had 125 our first year, and it's grown every year."
Even more significantly, the event's total production for its charity has surpassed $500,000, and that has led to tangible results. Cystic fibrosis patients now live about 10 years longer on average than they did in 2000, Estes said, and that is about to make a much bigger jump, it appears. A breakthrough drug called Kalydeco was approved in January, and more help for patients seems near.
Kalydeco has had remarkable benefits for patients with a certain gene mutation, but that is only about 4 percent of those with CF -- or about 1,200 people in the United States -- according to Vanessa Hammond, a former Lee tennis player and current employee whose 14-year-old son Will is one of the 4 percent.
"He's doing great. He already was fortunate to be relatively healthy," said Hammond, daughter of Lee president Dr. Paul Conn, "but he had a persistent cough. He's been taking Kalydeco about two weeks, and within a week his cough was gone."
Will Hammond ran in Saturday's race and finished 87th overall in 22:45.
"Because of money from events like this, they have been able to prove that this approach can be successful," his mother said, "and now a drug that helps most [CF patients] is in development. It's more important than ever to give to this cause, because we see it working, and this can add decades to these people's lives."
She and her husband, Dr. Jerome Hammond, a Lee vice president, got involved and had associates and friends join them in the Great Strides walk in Chattanooga soon after Will was diagnosed with CF at 9 months old. After two years of taking part at the Tennessee Riverwalk, Vanessa joined with Estes and Dr. Mike Hayes, another Lee staffer, to start a walk in Cleveland. Student leaders embraced the idea and made it a campus community-service project.
"The two years we did just the walk here, some people were running the course," Estes said, "so we said,'Why don't we add a 5k run?' The Lee students and faculty got behind it, and some great sponsors have joined with us.
"Two other groups we couldn't do without are the Chattanooga Track Club and the Cleveland city police department. They've been great. The police department covers every intersection along the route."
The Cleveland police finished second to the city's fire department in the annual Community Shield competition within the race Saturday. That is figured by the top three finishers for each department.
Morgan's winning time was 16 minutes, 6 seconds -- 6 seconds ahead of 41-year-old runner-up Rocky Falcone. Andy Highlander, Daniel Hamilton and Adam Dodson were third through fifth in 16:26, 17:17 and 17:49.
Opelt was 10th overall in 18:49. The second-place female was Ashley Matthews in 19:56.