A series of unfortunate events threatened to derail this year’s Great Train Race, but the Fredericksburg community came together to keep the 25th annual event chugging along as smoothly as ever.

Rain caused some runners to slip at the starting line and forced spectators under umbrellas and into billowy ponchos, but didn’t seem to faze many of the young participants.

“Rain or shine, we’re here,” said race director Jennifer Taylor. “There was that one year with horrible rain, but the kids just ran and were happy.”

In addition to the dreary weather, the event came near to being canceled when the Fredericksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad was unable to put together a team to provide medical coverage for the race, Taylor said.

So Victor Podbielski, deputy emergency manager for the Fredericksburg Fire Department, stepped up and put together a new team of department employees on his own at the last minute so the race could go forward.

“And then our DJ didn’t show up, so Thunder 104.5 is sending a DJ,” Taylor said. “When it rains, it pours!”

Cathy Weise is race director for the Ron Rosner YMCA and will take over as director of the Great Train Race next year. She said the last-minute assistance shows the community’s support for the race.

“It’s all about the kids having a good, professional event,” she said.

About 1,500 kids—toddlers through 18-year-olds—signed up for the event this year, Taylor said.

The event is made up of three races. The Great Train Race is a 1-mile run through downtown Fredericksburg for ages 6 to 18, beginning at the train station on Caroline Street and ending at City Dock on Sophia Street.

The George Dashington is a half-mile race for ages 12 and under, and the Caboose Run is a quarter-mile trot for ages 5 and under.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the race, the finisher’s medals were redesigned in silver, and confetti cannons were fired during the awards ceremony.

For the second year, the Great Train Race is the kickoff event of the Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids’ Race Series.

“It’s important to keep kids active, and it’s a good opportunity for those not involved in group sports at school,” said Weise, who created the race series.

“Kids are naturally in run mode, and if you put them in a group with their friends, they can knock out a mile completely,” she continued.

The race series also gives children an opportunity to set a goal for themselves and see if their time and distance improves over the course of the three events, she said.

The Dashing Dragons, Anthony Burns Elementary School’s running club for grades 2 and up, trains for the Great Train Race all year long, said Dannele Holbrook.

The mom of two girls running in the Great Train Race, Holbrook was leading a group of four girls in some pre-race stretches Sunday morning.

Her daughter Bristol, 10, said she has participated in the event since she was a toddler in the Caboose Run.

“I like it because it goes down hill, and when I’m done, I get ice cream,” she said.

The event also attracts runners from outside the Fredericksburg area.

Lucas Bohl, a student at Benton Middle School in Prince William County, finished first in the heat for boys ages 11 to 13, with a time of 5 minutes, 26 seconds.

“It’s his first race,” his mom, Jamie Pummill, said excitedly.

Bohl said he’d slipped at the beginning of his race, like other runners, and was lagging in 30th place. But when he heard his family cheering for him, he kicked into high gear.

“Now I can’t feel my legs,” he said, drinking water at the finish line.

“I like running because it’s fun and natural,” he said.

Some kids, like Bohl, prepared for the race during school track team practice. Others practiced just by being kids.

Brianne Diehl of Fredericksburg said her daughter Bristol, 5, who would be participating in the Caboose Run, spends her weekends chasing her older siblings “nonstop” around the cul-de-sac at her grandparents’ house.

“They have a lot of energy,” Diehl said of her kids. “So we like to run them out.”

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Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973 auphaus@freelancestar.com @flsadele

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