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The Golden Isles Track Club’s annual Sunshine Festival 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run will begin at 7 a.m. July Fourth at Mallery Park on St. Simons Island. Registration is currently underway at https://goldenislestrack.club.

Like many people, the running bug bit Scott Crawford early — back in high school. He competed in track and field, which paved the way for him to become a lifelong runner.

After moving to the Golden Isles four years ago, Crawford sought out some running camaraderie, which he found in the Golden Isles Track Club.

“I hadn’t hooked up with a proper track club before so when we moved here, I saw that the Golden Isles Track Club really featured prominently in the community, so I started going out with them,” he said.

The club meets for weekly runs and also hosts social gatherings. The organization’s goal is to promote running while also supporting similar causes through area schools and nonprofits. And one of the ways they’ve been able to keep that mission going has been through the annual Sunshine Festival 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run. Held the morning of July Fourth at Mallery Park, racers vie for top slots in various age categories as they trek around neighborhoods near the St. Simons Pier.

The proceeds collected from the registration fees go directly into funding the local running initiatives the club champions.

It’s been an Independence Day staple for locals and visitors alike, continuing for more than 35 years. That is, until 2020.

Crawford had planned to run the race, but the event had to be held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I ended up just doing it around my neighborhood,” he said.

But this year, the race is back in all its glory. The 5K begins at 7 a.m. July Fourth at 601 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, followed by the fun run at 8 a.m. The cost is $30 (plus a $3.30 online sign-up fee) for the 5K and $20 (plus a $3.25 sign-up fee) for the fun run. Participants will also receive a shirt.

Registration is currently underway at goldenislestrack.club, under the Sunshine Festival tab.

Pre-race packet pickup will be from 2 to 6 p.m. July 3 at St. Simons Presbyterian Church, 205 Kings Way, St. Simons Island.

Crawford is looking forward to running the race against actual competitors this year.

“I’m actually doing it with my daughter, who is 12 and a member of the track club, so it will be great to get out there and see our friends,” he said.

Crawford is also happy to know that their registration fees will go toward community causes.

“The Golden Isles Track Club does a good job of fundraising and then turning it around to support other running-related causes in the community, like Girls on the Run,” he said.

“It’s not a money grab for them. I’ve seen some races in other places that are insanely gimmicky and are just about the money. But this goes back into the community to get others interested in running.”

Mike Tigani agrees completely. The director of marketing at King and Prince Seafood has competed in the event every year since moving to the Isles in 2011, “ … so 10 (years),” he said.

“I love it because it’s a competitive 5K race right here on St. Simons Island. My second reason is that I love the team competition participating with King & Prince Seafood.”

Tigani also notes that participating is an opportunity to start July Fourth off on the right foot, that is, engaging in a healthy activity.

“I would encourage everyone to do this run as there is something for everyone. There is a 5K, but you don’t have to run it, you can walk,” he said.

“There is also a fun 1 mile that our daughter participated in when we first came to town. It’s a great, healthy way to start your Fourth of July day.”

Like Tigani, Lesley Leonard has a special attachment to the Sunshine Festival race. It was the first she completed after moving to St. Simons Island in the summer of 2018.

“I came from a large running community in the panhandle of Florida, but I knew no other runners or volunteers and very few people in Glynn County at all,” she said.

“I stayed around after the race to meet people, because it made an impression as a community-focused Fourth of July event.”

Now, Leonard is serving as this year’s race director. She and her fellow organizers are looking forward to hosting the return of the beloved event after a difficult year.

“I am honored to be the race director for the Golden Isles Track Club’s 37th annual Sunshine Festival 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run. The fact that the race and the Golden Isles Track Club have such a long history in the Glynn County community is very exciting in and of itself,” she said.

“To have the race back in person this year after many long months of social isolation will hopefully be the spark for a day of community-wide celebration of this country’s independence and a return to many of our much-loved traditions.”

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