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Final Run for Tara to be held Nov. 11 in Easthampton

Nov. 12, 2012
 A group of children run in a quarter-mile race that was part of the 11th annual Run for Tara Sunday at Williston Northampton School's Galbraith Field. A cross-country 5-kilometer race has been held for 11 years on Nov. 11, the birthday of the late Tara Sheehan, a former Southampton woman who died in 2002 after a 10-year battle with anorexia. The event is a fundraiser that benefits organizations that fight against eating disorders.

Nov. 12, 2012 A group of children run in a quarter-mile race that was part of the 11th annual Run for Tara Sunday at Williston Northampton School's Galbraith Field. A cross-country 5-kilometer race has been held for 11 years on Nov. 11, the birthday of the late Tara Sheehan, a former Southampton woman who died in 2002 after a 10-year battle with anorexia. The event is a fundraiser that benefits organizations that fight against eating disorders.

EASTHAMPTON — Organizers of the annual Run for Tara have decided that the 12th race on Veterans Day this year will be the last.

Friends and family of the late Tara Sheehan of Southampton have organized the 5K cross-country race in Easthampton on Sheehan’s birthday since she died at age 25 in 2002 after a 10-year battle with anorexia nervosa.

Her father, John Sheehan of Pomeroy Meadow Road, said the past 11 races have raised $108,547. The Tara Fund has awarded $42,050 in grants to organizations to help in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. “And we will continue to make grants until the funds run out,” he said.

Sheehan said his family and the organizing committee decided earlier this summer that this year’s race on Nov. 11, Tara’s birthday, would be the last.

“It takes a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of planning,” he said. “We felt like we’ve had 11 successful years and we should go out on a winning note.”

The decision was a difficult one, he said, not only because the money it raises help to fight eating disorders, but also because it is an event to remember his daughter.

“Every year when we do it, it brings up memories of Tara that are bittersweet. She was such a great kid and young woman,” he said. “It’s sweet to keep her memory alive and let people know that in her short life, she helped a lot of people, so we help people now in her honor.”

Sheehan said his daughter, who would have turned 37 on Veterans Day this year, was a popular girl who loved a good joke, riding horses and running on the cross-country team at the Williston Northampton School.

When she was fighting anorexia, there were far fewer resources or treatment centers available to those suffering from the disease, Sheehan has said. The money raised by the event goes to help educate young people about the disease and to support eating disorder treatment centers like the Walden Center in Northampton. In 2010, Sheehan worked with the Walden Center to create the Tara Sheehan Scholarship and $5,000 has gone into the fund after every race.

“If it’s still working well, we’d definitely like to keep supporting it so that local people suffering from eating disorders can get help even if their insurance doesn’t cover it,” he said.

Sheehan said that despite the race’s end, the Tara Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts will remain open and he hopes people who want to support the cause will continue to donate.

“The whole community has been great, supporting us even through the recession, from businesses donating to the people who walk or run in it,” he said of the race.

Volunteers, including many people who have been to every race, have worked hard to make the race go smoothly, he said. In addition to family, friends and supporters from the community, students from the University of Massachusetts Public Health Department always get involved. Sheehan visits the public health classes to talk about eating disorders and Tara’s struggle with anorexia, and the interaction with students always yields numerous volunteers from UMass.

This year about 90 volunteers will help at the event, including 40 UMass students. “We have so many who want to volunteer this year that we have a waiting list. That’s a great problem to have,” he said.

Southampton resident Virginia Ahart is one of the volunteers who has helped organize the race over the years. This year, she is in charge of coordinating all 90 volunteers.

“I will miss it,” she said of the Run for Tara. “I have enjoyed working with the small group and getting to know them. I will miss seeing them.”

But Ahart said she supports the decision to end the race because she has seen other events wind down. “Right now the Run for Tara is doing very well,” she said. By ending it now, the people who have worked so hard to put it on will be able to remember it at its best.

Last year’s race was the biggest ever, with 300 runners and walkers participating, and the event raised approximately $11,000.

“We’re hoping to surpass that,” Sheehan said. “People have been calling us about it being the last Run for Tara and they really want to be a part of it. Some people have taken part for all 11 years, and it’s been great to see so many of the same faces.”

Sheehan said family and friends will definitely do something to honor Tara on Nov. 11, 2014.

“We’ll figure something out to remember her,” he said. “We think of her every day.”

The race starts rain or shine on Galbraith Field at the Williston Northampton School, accessible from Taft Avenue. A quarter-mile “fun run” for children ages 3 to 8 starts at 10:15 a.m., followed by a 5K walk at 10:30 a.m. and a 5K run at 11:11 a.m.

Registration is $20 for adults, or $15 for early registration before Nov. 4; $10 for students, and the children’s race is free. For information, visit www.runfortara.org.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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