- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

BURLINGTON, Conn. (AP) - It started as an idea three years ago and now the Miles for Charity is gearing up to host its second charity race in the last two years.

As a freshman, Cooper Smelski, a member of the Lewis Mills High School football team and both indoor and outdoor track, came up with the idea to take something that he is good at, running, and use it help raise money for his class at Lewis Mills.

“Wanted to raise money for our class, and when I started working on it I decided that I didn’t want to do it for the class,” said Smelski, now a junior and his class secretary. “At that point we had other ideas to do for the class, so I figured we would do a charity.”

The idea turned into a reality in the winter of 2012, his sophomore year, when he asked fellow Spartans track athlete, junior Jackson Morrow, his class treasure, if he wanted to help work with him.

“I knew more about running than he did when it comes to organizing the races,” said Morrow, who wasn’t sure the idea would work. “I had second thoughts at first because I really didn’t think it could be done, I thought it was just an idea that he was throwing out there.”

The duo decided that the charity they would help raise money for would be the Wounded Warrior Project.

“I don’t think we as a country do enough, handle the wounded warriors correctly,” Smelski said. “I was looking on the Internet and looking through the different charities that support those who went to fight for our country and came back injured and the Wounded Warriors was one of the highly regarded.”

Smelski also had two grandfathers fight for this country.

“I have a grandfather (Tom Larsen) who served in Navy and another grandfather (Andrew Smelski) who served in Korea and came back with PTSD,” he said. “The grandfather from Korea has told me a bunch of stories; he drove trucks and tanks, picking up the wounded.”

Last year on April 6, they hosted their first race, the Just Two Guys Charity 5K Race, at Winding Trails in Farmington. They raised $5,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and $1,000 for their class, through a raffle. They had 170 participants.

This year they are bringing the race back to the Winding Trails on Saturday. The race will begin at 10:30 a.m., with the opening ceremony starting at 10 a.m.

So far 80 to 90 runners have signed up, but not many Lewis Mills students, they said. It’s $25 if you sign up early, and they expect more to sign up before the event and the day of for $30.

Smelski and Morrow have been promoting the race, making appearances on WTIC-TV and WFSB-TV.

“I didn’t think it would be as popular as it is,” Morrow said. “It’s great. It’s getting known.”

Other than hosting a silent auction again, there will be an optional military training test that members of the military take when joining the Armed Forces and they will be giving out awards this year.

The top three finishes in the all eight age groups will receive dog tags with their names on them. First place’s dog tag will be gold, second place silver and third place bronze.

“It just felt right, I thought if I could do it, able to, then you should, there’s no reason not to,” Smelski said.


Information from: The Register Citizen, https://www.registercitizen.com

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