17 Trojan Challenge volunteersThe first Trojan Challenge benefitting the Gary Weller Foundation is in the books, and organizers couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Cumberland County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe had a hard time restraining his excitement when he talked about the event, which drew approximately 135 participants to the two obstacle courses set up for competitors of various ages at the Sturtz Family Farm. 

Keefe said the goal was to sign up 100 participants the first year, with proceeds from their entry fees going to support the Weller Foundation. The foundation, named after former Pine Forest football coach Gary Weller, is seeking to raise money to present scholarships annually to deserving athletes from Pine Forest High School. 

“We were blessed,’’ Keefe said of the results of the first Trojan Challenge. “The mosquitoes were gone. No glitches. The weather was perfect. It was a great, festive day.’’ 

But the event wasn’t without a scare or two. Tropical Storm Michael was bearing down on the region just days before the race was scheduled on Oct. 13. 

   Rain from Michael forced a last-minute redesign of the course laid out by Josh Sturtz because some areas were either underwater or too wet to traverse. 

   One of the reasons the event ran so well was an abundance of volunteers, many of them students at Pine Forest, alumni of the school and just friends of the project. 

   The Westarea Volunteer Fire Department had a rescue vehicle and rescue personnel on the scene. Keefe said that, happily, they didn’t have anything to do during the race. 

   “Nobody got hurt,’’ he said. 

   Keefe doesn’t have the final figures yet, but he’s hopeful the foundation raised close to $4,000 for the first year of the event. 

   He described the experience as being similar to the debut of the popular television show “American Idol.” 

   “We didn’t know if it was going to be a hit or crash and burn like the other eight or 10 ‘reality shows’ that year,’’ Keefe said. “When the first racer, who was a competitive runner, came across the finish line and said the course was tough and she enjoyed it, that gave us the confidence we did it right.’’ 

   Even with the initial success, organizers are anxious to improve things as they start preparations for next year, with the race tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19, 2019. 

   Weller, who handed out medals with his wife Cathy at the finish line, praised the event organizers, including Keefe, Vallery Shoe, Andy Dempster and Sturtz. 

   “They went above and beyond what anybody would expect,’’ he said. “It was unreal. We had great responses from people that participated. It was just a good community event.’’ 

   Weller said they plan to get some input from people who have experience competing on obstacle courses to look at possible changes for next year. Some simple fixes they are exploring include adding a changing area for the runners along with a place to clean up and store valuables. 

   While the foundation bears Weller’s name, he stressed that it’s not about him. “It’s what we’re doing to raise money for that scholarship,’’ he said. “It’s awesome to be able to give that money to some kid that deserves it.’’ 

   Keefe said the foundation has a three-year goal of raising $50,000, and this year’s event is a good start in that direction. 

   “It was amazing,’’ he said. 

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