Saturday morning, Hayden Francis of Snellville crossed the finish line to cheers from her family and strangers alike as the first woman to finish the half marathon in the 26th annual Run the Reagan road race.

For about an hour and 36 minutes, Francis ran against the wind along Ronald Reagan Parkway in Snellville for 13 long miles.

She was there for two main reasons. One was just for fun. The second, she said, was “not to toot my own horn, but I won last year so I had to reclaim my title again. This is one of my favorite events to do.”

Her father, Daniel Francis, smiled and hugged her.

“I’m super proud – are you kidding?” he said. “Fantastic. She’s an amazing person.”

He said Hayden wasn’t done for the day though, as she bought them tickets for Christmas to run the 5K together following the half marathon. Daniel Francis said he would jog as Hayden cooled down.

“She’s really self-motivated,” Daniel Francis said. “She encourages me more so than anything. She’s a real inspiration in her school and everything she does. She works toward excellence, but at the same time has a very caring and compassionate mind. It’s really wonderful.”

Daniel Francis said this was the fifth Run the Reagan race they’ve participated in together. Although they did it just for fun, for him, participating in the run was about something else, too.

“It’s a way to get together and talk,” Daniel said. “My gift is time with her. That’s really the thing. It’s a great event.”

Like the Francis family, Dee Drake, also of Snellville, waited at the finish line for her sister, Christa, to finish the 10K. She and Christa’s two nieces held up two-sided signs with Pinterest-inspired phrases like, “Should I call an Uber?” and “I ran once. It was horrible.”

Dee said this was their 10th year participating in the Run the Regan.

“It’s just for fun for us,” she said. “We started when she ran her first half marathon. She likes the signs, so we do it for her.”

Warren Auld, Run the Reagan board member, said 1,923 runners registered for the races this year – a few hundred more than last year. He said it’s become a community event, a fixture in the county.

The Run the Reagan includes a timed half-marathon, 10K and 5K, as well as an untimed 5K run/walk and 1K fun run. The half-marathon kicked off the event at 9 a.m.

“It attracts a lot of different type of people,” board member John Hoover said. “This is a race that’s a Peachtree (Road Race) qualifier, so you get some of your more hardcore runners involved out there in some of the 10Ks, but you also have a lot of family involvement with the fun run – people who just want to walk and get out.”

Hoover said participants represented not just Gwinnett County and Georgia, but 14 other states as well. And since its inception, he said the race has helped raise more than $1 million for local charities. This year, he said 10% of runners who signed up donated over what the sign-up fees were.

“Every nickel that comes in goes directly to the charities and the people that it benefits,” Auld said. “Nobody gets paid except for the vendors who provide services. Twenty thousand dollars plus go to these charities, meaning it goes directly to food and into people’s stomachs or electricity bills. This is a ground level opportunity to help the community.”

This year’s race raised funds for the Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry, the Lilburn Cooperative Ministry and the Brookwood Schools Foundation. Schools in the Parkview, Central Gwinnett, Shiloh and South Gwinnett clusters also received money based on the number of runners they had signed up.

“We use the proceeds from this race to seed our summer feeding efforts,” Laura Drake, executive director of Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry, said.

She said the co-op serves kids in five school clusters in the area, and in June and July they allow families to double up on resources since so many of them have kids on free and reduced lunch at school.

“We give out between 60-65 tons of food every summer,” she said. “It’s incredible how much we give out. It costs us about $35,000-$40,000 every year and so this helps get this rolling. We’re so grateful. Without this, it would be a struggle.”

The race was made possible through partnerships with Gwinnett County, the city of Snellville and numerous sponsors, including Eastside Medical Center, E.R. Snell Contractors, Canon United Methodist Church, Georgia Power, Mazzawi Family Dentistry, Kroger and Coca-Cola.

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Chamian is a reporter with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Appalachian State University, as well as a graduate of Gwinnett County Schools. She previously covered politics and education in North Georgia.

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