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Run4Wilbs: Inspiring a community to change

By Mike Wilber, Special to CNN
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Mike Wilber beat his first 5K goal time by more than 30 seconds on June 28.
Mike Wilber beat his first 5K goal time by more than 30 seconds on June 28.
  • Mike Wilber's friends and family planned a 5K race honoring him
  • Run4Wilbs took place on June 28 in Allegany, New York
  • Follow Mike's journey training for a triathlon on Twitter @TriHardMike

Editor's note: Mike Wilber is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the "Sassy Six" on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

(CNN) -- For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be able to say, "I've run a 5K."

Unfortunately, I was so out of shape, it was hard to imagine walking 5 kilometers, let alone running them.

When I found out the distance of the triathlon that I was going to be competing in with Fit Nation come September -- a half-mile swim, an 18-mile bike ride and a 4-mile run -- I decided that somehow, I was going to run a 5K and then some ... and that was that.

What I never imagined was that my first 5K would be held in my honor, organized by my friends and family as a surprise, right down Main Street in my hometown of Allegany, New York.

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The "top secret" planning all started right after my first Fit Nation trip to Atlanta in January. My girlfriend, Joy, enlisted the help of my children, my co-workers and my family. She picked the date, named the race, rented the space and worked out all of the major details, all without my knowledge.

The day that I was told about the plans for "Run4Wilbs," I had mixed emotions.

I was shocked that so much had been planned without me finding out about it; there were more than 50 people at this point that knew and they were my close friends and my family.

I was overwhelmed because I don't like to be the focus of attention, and this race was named after me so I had no choice.

I was also scared that I wouldn't do well in the 5K itself -- there were going to be a lot of people watching if I failed.

Facing your fears head on

In the beginning, the plan was to gather as many of my family, friends and community members as possible. The date of June 28 was picked because it was not only the day before my school's graduation, it was also the last day of Old Home Week/ Fireman's Carnival; everyone comes back to town that weekend.

As race day got closer, the event got bigger and bigger. First, we found out that my former student-athlete, Maj. Pat Miller, was planning on attending. Pat was thrust into the public eye in April when he was wounded in the Fort Hood shooting.

When I received his message saying that he would be walking in my race (he was still recovering from his third surgery), I was at the end of a long run. All of a sudden my exhausted legs felt lighter and stronger, and I finished with ease.

New York state Sen. Cathy Young presents Fit Nation\'s Mike Wilber with a citation as Major Patrick Miller stands by his side.
New York state Sen. Cathy Young presents Fit Nation's Mike Wilber with a citation as Major Patrick Miller stands by his side.

The day before the big day, I was greeted by a local TV reporter from Buffalo, New York, asking for an interview. As soon as the interview was finished, we got a call from New York state Sen. Cathy Young's office. Young was not only going to be at the race, she was presenting me with a citation for making major changes to live a healthier lifestyle and inspiring not only my family and friends but my community to do the same.

Senator Young at my race? Are you kidding??

We couldn't have asked for a better day for the race. We got to the course at 6 a.m. to begin setting up. My family and friends started arriving about an hour later. That is when I started to realize just how big this was going to be. By 8 a.m. we had more than 200 people, there to either participate or just to show their support.

When Senator Young made her presentation, by her side was New York state Assemblyman Joe Giglio. What I didn't know was that he had his running gear with him. He changed right before the race and ran with us. That blew my mind!

There were so many little details of that day that really meant a lot to me.

For instance, my former high school track and field coach was contacted to be the starter of the race. So many of my colleagues came to work the race and help wherever they were needed; more came to run or walk. To think that they we all there to support me was unbelievably overwhelming, to say the least.

Fit Nation may focus on the Sassy Six -- strangers who were selected to do a single triathlon. But it's also about making healthy changes, and inspiring our family and friends to do the same, and then taking that message to the community and beyond. I think we accomplished that with Run4Wilbs.

At the end of the day, I said a lot of thank-you's, shook many hands and gave a lot of hugs. I beat my 5K goal by over 30 seconds and decided that, based on the feedback from everyone involved (and many who wished that they could have made it), Run4Wilbs is going to be an annual event.

Same day, same time, same place. Save the date!

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