If you see Santa Claus, or perhaps some elves or some reindeer, running through the streets of Havre de Grace, don't be alarmed. Chances are good they'll be trotting through town as part of the Running With the Reindeer 5K race.
This is the inaugural 5K Run and 1K Fun Walk for the Jane M. Johnston Foundation, which raises money to help children fighting cancer.
The foundation was started by Mrs. Johnston's husband, Alex. Just before she died four and a half years ago of melanoma, Mrs. Johnston asked her husband of 15 years "to do something" for kids with cancer.
And that promise by Alex Johnston made to his wife has become his passion.
"She just liked kids," Alex Johnston said. "It's a very unfair disease. It's unfair for adults to have it, but for kids, it's just ridiculous, for lack of a better word."
Mrs. Johnston, who was 48 when she died, was an art teacher at C. Milton Wright High School and was very involved in the community, Alex Johnson said, including as part of the Bel Air Festival of the Arts.
Johnston got together with some friends and they founded the nonprofit in his late wife's name. The group donates to the sunflower miracle campaign, which, according to a brochure, exists for one simple reason: "to help children with life-threatening or lifelong illness," as well as the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Camp Sunrise, a week-long summer camp for seriously ill children.
"We try to help local kids fighting cancer," Johnston said.
Last year, they sent a young girl dying of brain cancer and her family to Disney World; they helped a family whose daughter died of cancer keep their house.
"Now we want to get the word out that we're available to help," he said.
Among the fundraisers for the foundation are a golf tournament and bull and oyster roast.
This year's Running With the Reindeer is a new event.
"We wanted to do something different to bring awareness to a different group of people," Johnston said of the run. He had also started running.
They came up with the idea last year, he said, but really got started too late, so they started a little earlier this year and are planning on a big race Sunday morning through the streets of Havre de Grace.
He said race managers told him to expect 150 to 200 runners for the first race, but as of Wednesday afternoon, 427 people had already signed up. Based on those numbers, he said, he's been told to expect 600 to 700 runners on Sunday.
"For the first year, that's really pretty good," he said. "We're pretty happy."
I am one of those 427 people signed up for the 5K. Running is something I picked up last spring when I started seriously trying to lose weight. Now I regularly run anywhere between 25 and 35 miles a week. I'm not training for anything in particular, but I do have a half-marathon in mind for March. (Ideally, I'd run one by the time I turn 40 in February, but there aren't too many local half-marathons this time of year, so I'm waiting a month.)
I don't run a whole lot of races — it can get quite expensive. I like to choose races mostly for their causes, and this one sounded like a good one (it's all subjective). I agree with Mr. Johnston — cancer stinks no matter who has it, but for kids to be stricken is just devastating. If I, in some small way like my $20 registration to run, can help a seriously ill boy or girl enjoy themselves just a little bit, I'm happy. No one deserves to be ill, but I'd like to help them make the best of it.
I admire Mr. Johnston for making the best of a terrible situation, and for really putting his heart and soul into it.
Havre de Grace will be a nice place for a run — it's scenic (starting and finishing in Tydings Park) and flat — two perks for me, as a runner. And it doesn't start until 10 a.m., a perk for me, as a non-morning person.
The race is still open; Johnston said he expects 150 to 200 people to register on race day, so if you're interested, come to Tydings Park around 8:30 to sign up. The weather is supposed to be beautiful.
Help Mr. Johnston fulfill his "promise that's become a passion."