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IUP is staging a virtual race named after a fictional character.

The inaugural Burt Hoovis Virtual 5K will begin Saturday and continue through May 31. Participants are encouraged to run or walk the 5K, all at a safe location of their choosing.

The race’s namesake was created many years ago by members of the cross country team, who have kept his spirit alive through the years.

“Our athletic director, Todd Garzarelli, approached me with the idea,” IUP cross country coach Joey Zins said,  “and as someone who still competes, I noticed that races were either canceled or postponed or changed to a virtual format, and knowing something like that was already taking place, it made sense for us to do something like this. We’re working with the university advancement office and the alumni office and the sports information department to set parameters and promote it and get the word out to everybody.”

To register, become a sponsor or make a donation, visit iupathletics.com and go to the men’s or women’s cross country page.

Participants are asked to submit their virtual race time via email to Zins at joeyzins@iup.edu. Names and times will be posted on the IUP Cross Country Track and Field Alumni Facebook page and on the IUP website. Details are included in the registration process.

Registration will remain open through May 31. The fee is $25 per runner or $5 for students in kindergarten through college.

“We knew we needed to be creative and this helped the current team stay engaged since their season was canceled,” Zins said. “It’s something to train for and be competitive with and something they could do when we’re not at normal.”

Nothing has been normal since early March, when college campuses across the country were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Spring sports seasons were canceled along with the postseason for most winter sports, and now institutions across the country are facing difficult financial times. Proceeds from this event benefit the IUP men’s and women’s track and field and cross country teams.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster the last 2ᄑ months,” Zins said. “Obviously there’s a trickle-down effect, and this is going to hit every aspect of the university and athletic teams. So if anyone is motivated or so inclined and would like to join our cause and keep the team going forward, we would really appreciate it and encourage them to sign up and run the race.”

Gingerbreadman Running Company, of Indiana, is the sponsor of the virtual race.

“We’re working with Gingerbreadman Running Company, which is offering a 20 percent discount on shoes to all participants,” Zins said, “and we’re also having a raffle after the conclusion of the race. There will be five random winners of $30 in store credit.”

Meanwhile, team members continue to deal with a lost season.

“Obviously they’re disappointed,” Zins said, “and as the reality set in, it was obvious how serious of a global challenge this was. They realized it was something that was not only going to affect them, it was going to affect everyone.

“Obviously you only have a certain number of years to compete in college, and just having a season that may never get used or made up is hard to reconcile. What makes it even more difficult is the uncertain future because there’s no guarantee we would be back to normal for cross country and the spring semester. Now there’s also a kind of anxiety worrying that we’re also going to lose cross country season. And it’s still going to affect us next year in track.

“So I’ve been in communication with the team. We had a Zoom meeting with them (Tuesday), and we’ve been checking in with them and still giving them voluntary workouts that they can do. Like everyone, it’s been stressful and disappointing to have to live through this.”