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Backing The Blue in 5K race

South Boston News
Runners await the 9 a.m. start if Saturday’s race at Factory Street Brewing Company. (Liza Fulton photo) / September 27, 2021

Dozens of runners turned out on a bright Saturday morning to take part in the Back the Blue 5K fundraiser in downtown South Boston. Temperatures were in the low 50s as runners took their mark for the 9 a.m. start of the race, but by the time the last runners arrived back at the start-finish line at Factory Street Brewing Company, the day had warmed up nicely for an after-party at the local brewpub.

The fundraiser was a success, bringing in $3,090 for the Dermyer and Dowell Scholarship fund. The scholarships are awarded to children of law enforcement officers who further their educations after their senior year in high school. The fund was created in memory of Chad Dermyer and Lucas Dowell, two Virginia State Troopers who were killed in the line of duty.

“We raised enough to offer two scholarships next year,” said Chelsea Wooding, organizer of the local Back the Blue 5K.

Making the 3.1 mile loop through South Boston were 56 runners, including former South Boston police officer Julianna Berry and her daughter, Kylie Berry. Kylie was the recipient of this year’s Dermyer-Dowell Scholarship. The family lives in the Chesapeake Bay community of Mathews, after relocating there from South Boston.

“I walked the course, but I finished and that was my goal,” said Kylie Berry, who in January will be attending nursing school at Sentara Health College in Chesapeake.

Runners had several hills to climb along Edmunds Street and Marshall Avenue, before looping past hills on Seymour Drive at the Apple Market, and ending with a bit more elevation to climb onto Broad Street — then it was a downhill two-block sprint to the finish line.

“Who designed this course? Here come more hills,” at least one runner who was unprepared for all of the climbing was overheard to say — but everyone finished the race.

A mix of local law enforcement officers, firefighters, and civilian runners participated in the race. This was the first 5K for Virginia State Trooper Rob Abbott and his K9 partner, Mario. Abbott and Mario have served together for the past six months. Mario is about 16 months old.

“Mario loved it more than I did,” said Abbott, who placed 15th in the field.

“It was a fun course,” said eighth-place finisher, Virginia State Trooper David Martin, who admitted to running a 5K every now and then.

Halifax County Sheriff’s Deputy Field Cross came in 12th place, although the 5K was not really a competition — these law enforcement officers stuck close together.

“I had a good time and I want to thank Chelsea Wooding and Cissy Martin for an event well put together. They did a great job,” said Cross.

Wooding’s husband, Virginia State Police Trooper Bill Wooding, graduated from the police academy with both Troopers Dermyer and Dowell. Dermyer died in 2016 when he was fatally shot outside a Greyhound bus station in Richmond. Dowell was gunned down in a 2019 State Police tactical team operation to serve a search warrant on a Farmville-area home linked to a narcotics investigation.

Losing these friends and co-workers inspired Chelsea Wooding to initiate the South Boston fundraiser in 2016. She renamed the scholarship fund in memory of both fallen troopers after Dowell’s death in 2019.

In addition to the runners, who paid $25 to take part, a number of sponsors also contributed to the fundraising haul. “Thank you to all of our sponsors for helping make our dreams a reality this year and we hope to keep growing this event each year,” said Chelsea Wooding.

Amanda Rose, owner of Wister’s flower and gift shop in downtown South Boston, designed a Flower Wall for the post-race celebration at the brewpub. The blue roses and blue-and-white hydrangeas made an apt backdrop for photos of Back the Blue race participants.

Students with We’ve Got Rhythm Dance Academy were stationed at every turn to guide and motivate the runners along the way. Following the race, dance students entertained the at Factory Street Brewing with a medley of dance numbers. It had been almost two years since the dance team has been able to perform in public, due to the pandemic.

“We are so glad to be able to support the Back the Blue Scholarship fundraiser,” said Lori Vogt, dance academy owner and instructor. “This year’s recipient, Kylie Berry, is a former member of our Performance Company and Competition Team and it was a pleasure to see her accept her scholarship.

“These kids were so excited to get to perform and it was extra special that their current teammate, Kora Bryan, won third fastest female,” Vogt said.

Outside the brewpub, DJ B-Ham (Bailey Hammond) kept lively dance beats pumping. Happy Heifer Food truck was on hand to satisfy those with post-race appetites. And more than a few pints of locally-crafted brews quenched thirsts after the morning run.

The top three male and female runners were recognized and presented medals. For the men: first place finisher was Jacob Barker, with a time of 19:03. Following Barker in second place was Will Van Opstal, finishing in 21:19, and coming in third was Yony Bengtson.

“I’m glad I knew the course,” said Van Opstal, who ran the same 5K loop for Downtown South Boston’s Fourth of July festival this year.

For the women: a mother-and-daughter pairing took first and third place, Lauren Bryan and her daughter, Kora. Kora is a fifth grader in Clarksville and finished the race in 26 minutes. Shelly Dix was the second place finisher, with a time of 25:52.

Wooding offered thank you’s to her friends and volunteers who helped to make the fundraiser a success, and praised Factory Street Brewing Company as a perfect venue for the event being centrally located in town.

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