Someone will win the Atlantic City Marathon's main event Sunday, and everyone who finishes will take home a medal.
Tommy Waszaj and Jayden Nogueras will take home much more.
Waszaj, a 24-year-old Princeton resident, will dribble a basketball throughout Sunday's half-marathon to raise awareness and money for Liquid Water, a charity that provides safe drinking water in areas of the world where it is lacking.
Nogueras, a 6-year-old from Cape Cod, Mass., will run in the kids 1-mile race today despite suffering from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and being legally blind. Proceeds of the race go to charity, and Nogueras also promotes a ride-along program that his parents, Mary Liz and Jose, started for disabled people to be pushed in endurance events.
"To use an event where there's going to be a lot of people, a lot of publicity, it's great to use it for a cause that's much greater than ourselves individually," Waszaj said in a phone interview Thursday night.
The 54th annual marathon will provide plenty of visibility. Race director Genia Chapman of the Milton and Betty Katz Jewish Community Center in Margate said the event was almost sold out Friday night with nearly 4,000 entries for the five races: Today's 10k, 5k and kids' 1-mile run, and Sunday's marathon and half-marathon. The entries have risen steadily each year from about 800 runners in 2009, the first year that the Katz JCC took over operation of the race.
Waszaj played basketball at Timothy Christian School in Piscataway and Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pa. As a senior in college, he dribbled 5 miles with his team to raise awareness for Liquid Water. The organization was started by fellow Baptist Bible alumnus Dan Occhiogrosso.
Waszaj enjoyed the experience and decided to do it again but on a bigger scale. He hopes to bring in $5,000, which is enough to build a well that can provide water for a village of 400 for 20 years. Waszaj is not keeping track of how much he raises since money is donated directly to Liquid Water, but he plans to check after the race.
"I love basketball, so I figured why not?" Waszaj said. "I don't really like running too much, but I do love basketball. So if I can use basketball to help other people out, then I would, for sure, do anything."
Nogueras serves as an inspiration, and he will run in a race that benefits the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, whose trained volunteers speak on behalf of abused and neglected children in the foster-care system.
Nogueras ran his first mile in July 2011 in Virginia Beach, Va., finishing in 19 minutes, 54 seconds. 18 races later, his personal best is 14:02, and he hopes to improve on that today.
"I really like running, and it makes me feel proud to do it," the 6-year-old said in quotes provided by the Atlantic City Marathon.
Nogueras wants others to have the opportunity to race, too, so his parents started myTeam Triumph, a program in which runners push disabled athletes in wheelchairs or other equipment during races. Jayden is preparing for his first race as a pusher - or "angel" - next month in Virginia.
Waszaj said he admires the Nogeuras family's cause.
"I think it's great that people can use an event like this for good purposes, not just to run," Waszaj said.
Waszaj actually had to stop training about two weeks ago because of knee problems. Since then, he has been resting and stretching, with the goal of simply finishing the race.
After all, his most important number is not his time, but rather how many people he tells about his cause.
"I am a little nervous about (the running)," Waszaj said. "(But) I'm just excited to see what the turnout's going to be and how many people I can talk to while I'm there. … The whole goal is to stand out so people question, 'What is this kid doing?' And that way I have a chance to describe the whole cause for what I'm doing."
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