Asking Tony Overbay to smile is pointless. He is constantly smiling. Sitting in the passenger seat of a vintage, red, Thunderbird convertible, his grin widens as the car enters the athletic field of Glen Edwards Middle School (GEMS) on Friday morning. Hundreds of school kids, teachers and parents cheer as they line the running track. The middle school band is playing music and local media is anxious to chat with him on live TV.
Overbay is about to begin his now-famous 24 hour run. Not 24 minutes…not 24 miles. 24 hours. For the third year in a row, this is his way of kicking off the GEMS 5K run.
Three years ago, the GEMS 5K began as a fundraiser to raise money for sports programs at Glen Edwards Middle School in central Lincoln. GEMS 5K organizer, Denise Blackstock says, “The 5K run seemed like a good idea for raising money and also helping kids with exercise and health. Tony stood up at a parents’ meeting and said, ‘What if I run for 24 hours to gain attention for the 5K?’ The 5K and Tony’s run started as a fundraiser and has become more about changing kids’ lives.”
Overbay, 43, knows about changing lives. He is a marriage and family therapist. He and his wife, Wendy, have four children ranging in ages from 9 to 15 years. He has run numerous marathons and ultra-marathons. His cheerful presence is infectious.
As Overbay begins his full-day trek, he circles the GEMS track, smiling and greeting kids. Several children join him on the oval circuit for his first few laps, then they file off to the classrooms. Soon, the field is quiet except for the sound of Overbay’s shoes padding along the track. His wife, Wendy, sits trackside under a portable awning, with drinks and snacks to keep him going. She joins him for laps. Throughout the school day, students run with him during their P.E. classes.
Later in the afternoon, Overbay gets a change of scenery as he jogs over to the Lincoln High School stadium to finish his run. Locals are there to cheer him on and the GEMS 5K registration tent is signing up more runners for Saturday morning’s event.
Passing his 56th mile, Overbay says, “Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m fine. My legs are tired but they should be.”
He is often accompanied by other runners: Friends. The cross-country coach. School kids. New runners. Wendy.
As darkness falls on the stadium, most of the locals head home. The DJ shuts down his sound equipment and a few tents pop up on the field. Overbay continues his run. Others stay with him and run.
On Saturday morning, the stadium fills again with cheers. Joined by Wendy and their four children, Overbay runs his final lap and completes his goal of 125 miles. Amid celebratory hugs, he is tired, but smiling.
GEMS principal Shelly Hoover was all smiles as well. She says, “I’m covered in goose bumps and have tears in my eyes, and it’s pure gratitude and pride to be principal of this school and part of this community. That’s when school is at its finest, when community comes together to support the kids.”
Hoover continues, “All the hard work of all the parents behind the scenes to make this happen is just tremendous. The 5K pays for all of our sports at the middle school: fees, uniforms. We would not have any middle school sports without this.”
The money also helps with other programs at the school. Over the first two years, the event has raised a total of $12,000. This year’s goal is $10,000; over 350 people have registered for the 5K run which circles the streets of Lincoln.
As the 5K runners cross the finish line at the stadium, Overbay walks tenderly and mingles with them. More hugs, high-fives and smiles are shared as the runners celebrate their own accomplishment.
Overbay has accomplished his goals. He ran 125 miles within 24 hours. He generated community support for the 5K run. He has introduced kids to running and exercise. And he has shown how much difference one person can make.
That is plenty to smile about.
More photos of the GEMS 5K Run here.
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