by Kimberly Villa
The City of Fontana welcomed runners back to the annual “Fontana Days Run” on June 4, 2022 after virtual races the past two years. The event includes a half marathon, 5K Run, 5K Race Walk, 5K Family Fitness Walk, and a Children’s Half Mile Dash. While the competitive, fast course of the half marathon attracts top runners, this is truly a community event, which inspired Stan Clark, City Coordinator for the City of Fontana, who also serves as the Fontana Special Olympics Local Program Coordinator, to invite a Special Olympics team to participate.
As the runners set up at the start line for the half marathon, Team SOSC – represented by Blake English, Special Olympics Inland Empire Sr. Manager, Sports & Programs, his wife and dedicated SOSC volunteer, Jenna, and Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger, Bret Laza – launched a new tradition representing athletes with intellectual disabilities in the area. “What a great partnership the City of Fontana has with Blake and Special Olympics! The City is proud to serve our increasingly growing number of Special Olympics Athletes. We look forward to continuing our partnership and expanding our offerings to serve more athletes in our community,” said Clark.
City partnerships are critical to the work of Special Olympics across the Southern California footprint. Partnerships open the door to more athletes, encourage volunteerism, and create other budget relieving opportunities for local programs. When Special Olympics staff and volunteers work within a community, athletes are normalized and their abilities, instead of their disabilities, are centered. As a result, friendships blossom, confidence expands, and margins diminish. Special Olympics is so very grateful for civic leaders who are willing to work creatively with staff to develop programs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.
“I had a great time running the Fontana Half Marathon with friends, representing Special Olympics and the City of Fontana, where I can show my abilities rather than my disabilities,” said Bret Laza. Bret takes this representation very seriously and knows that the presence of the SOSC trio is only the beginning of this tradition at the Fontana Days Run, but it is not his first race with Blake. “I first met Brett at the Temecula Torch Run, where he convinced/motivated me to run the entire route with him, which is a half marathon. Now here we are, 4 years later, running our 4th half marathon together! While I’ve never been a big runner, Brett has inspired me to push myself both physically and mentally. It’s a friendship that I am grateful for, even though Brett wants to “up the ante” and run a marathon together,” said Blake. About her first experience running with Bret, Jenna said, “It was a pleasure to run alongside Brett and have our own Special Olympics running team! As a volunteer, I am inspired every day by the athletes and Brett has truly inspired me in the 4 years I’ve known him!”
English said that he is very grateful for the ways that the City of Fontana supports the Special Olympics athletes and programs and is looking forward to the continue relationship.