BY HELEN LYONS — The rain may have dampened the race course, but it certainly didn’t dampen any spirits at the Hyattsville Elementary School’s inaugural Zombie Run on Oct. 1.
Little girls in striped tights, vibrant tutus, and gruesome face paint danced in the puddles to “Rockin’ Robin” as it blasted from the speakers near the starting line of an event that not only brought the community together for some good old fashioned exercise, but also doubled the PTA’s discretionary budget.
“The PTA budget for the past few years has been primarily supported through the native plant sale and a couple of other fundraisers that happen throughout the year,” explained Mary Warneka, the previous PTA president, as she handed out water bottles and snacks to costumed runners, “but we knew we needed to take it to the next level.”
Warneka said that the money raised helps pay for things like busing for field trips, musical instruments, hygiene supplies in the office, art supplies, and clay for the new kiln.
“We are just in awe at the success of this event,” said a beaming Marquisha Powell, the current PTA president, waiting at the finish line in the pouring rain with medals to hand out to the kids. “We have a fantastic community, which shows in all the parents and the kids that have volunteered, and all the local businesses who have volunteered and contributed. A strong school is fundamental to a strong community.”
There were 420 people who signed up online for the Zombie Run, but even more showed up in person to register or just to watch.
Among them were sisters Maggie, 7, and Beatrix, 5, along with their mother who was dressed as the tooth fairy, complete with a floss necklace and a toothbrush tucked into her pocket.
Maggie said her favorite part was picking out her bright orange pumpkin costume, but Beatrix, who was dressed as a spider, said shyly that she was most excited to “see if I’m gonna win.”
The first race was a family one, where parents running with their children held hands and cheered as they crossed the finish line after completing a one kilometer loop.
The second race was a kids’ 1k, and when the air-horn sounded an army of child-zombies (as well as fairy princesses, witches and The Flash) dashed off beneath an arch of rainbow balloons, grinning even as the rain washed the gory face paint from their faces.
Ben was the first to cross the finish line, and donned his dog-tag medal with pride.
“It feels really good,” Ben said of his victory. “I came prepared to run.”
The 11-year-old’s preparation, in fact, was running three miles a day, three days a week, for a month to prepare for the race.
Erick Kigen, the winner of the official adults’ 5k with a time of just over nineteen minutes, also trained for about a month. He came out to support his niece, Amani, whose name Kigen explained means “peace” in Swahili.
“I feel great,” Kigen declared of his victory, smiling. “I came here to support her and I felt good after the race.”
Teachers were in attendance as well, like Cicili Harrison, a fourth grade teacher who went “incognito” in her lion costume (HES’s mascot) and a fake goatee.
Her student Preston, however, recognized her immediately.
“I knew she would do this!” he said, laughing.
Preston, like many of the children, said that a lot of deliberation went into the planning of his costume. He chose his face paint carefully to mimic the zombie on the promotional fliers.
Elsie, who was dressed in bright tights and a green tutu, said she also did her research. “I looked at pictures of Scooby Doo zombies,” she explained, “and saw them as green, with blood all over them, so I thought: how about a green skirt and blood tears?”
Nicole Entwistle, a kindergarten teacher, said she was there to support the PTA, and called the Zombie Run “a fun event promoting health and fitness for kids.”
She also happened to be dressed as a banana.
“They just laugh and giggle and think it’s funny that there’s a banana zombie,” she said of her students’ reactions.
Principal Teresa Bey greeted families and let the children know how amazed (or frightened) she was by their costumes.
“The rain didn’t stop us!” she declared, grinning as another zombie — this one a parent — crossed the finish line. “We had a great turnout. Our students had fun, our parents had fun. It was a good opportunity for us to get together with our community.”
And while this event was the first of its kind for HES, Kevin Blackerby, the organizer, said he doesn’t expect it to be the last.
“We’re going to continue on and make it bigger and better,” he said with determination, standing under one of the tents to protect the walkie talkie he was using to keep it all running smoothly.
But judging by the seemingly endless stream of cars that poured into the parking lot, directed by umbrella-less but smiling volunteers, making it even bigger could prove a challenge.
And making it better?
As children laughed and jumped in puddles until their pants were soaked past the knees, it’d be hard to argue that more fun could be had.
Cynthia Perdomo and her grandson wore matching face paint: blood, gore, and even some exposed teeth painted on.
When asked if the undead feared the rain, she responded cheekily, “We like the rain. It makes everybody else slow down, so we can catch them.”
There was plenty to do between and after the races, too. Vigilante Coffee kept the racers caffeinated — and warm. Calvert Brewing Company provided the after-race beverages while food truck Urban Bumpkin BBQ served up their take on barbecue. After the races were finished and the medals had been passed out, The Roustabouts played the blues while zombies danced.