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Organizers cancel Fairlington 5K over policy requiring course to be cleared of cars

A nearly decade-old 5K race through Fairlington supporting a local girl with a rare disease is canceled, possibly indefinitely.

Since 2014, hundreds of Arlingtonians and visitors have participated in the Fairlington 5K, which raises money to fund research for a cure for leukoencephalopathy, or LBSL. The disorder affects the brain and spinal cord of Wakefield High School student Ellie McGinn.

Her P.E. teacher at Abingdon Elementary School initiated the first race in 2014. Since then, her family established the nonprofit, A Cure for Ellie, now Cure LBSL, which supports treatment research and raises awareness about the disease, while the race has attracted those affected by it from as far away as New Zealand.

“It’s been more than I ever could’ve dreamed for,” Ellie’s mother, Beth McGinn, tells ARLnow. “It’s a great community event and brought out the best in everyone here.”

This year would have been the eighth year for the race, but it was canceled due to stepped-up security for local races.

“For the safety and security of participants, spectators and special event staff, ACPD has a longstanding practice of clearing race courses of parked vehicles,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

Over the last year, organizers of a few regularly occurring races that “did not have clear courses” were notified that by 2023, ACPD would no longer allow these events to occur if vehicles were parked along the race route.

The policy is intended to avoid drivers accidentally or purposefully striking participants. During last year’s race, police had to escort five individuals who inadvertently drove on the race course, despite public messaging and signage, Savage said.

This policy has been around for nearly a decade, according to Kathy Dalby, the CEO of local running store Pacers Running, which has handled race-day logistics for the Fairlington 5K as well as other races around the county.

“This isn’t a new policy, just probably not enforced across the board,” Dalby said. “We have been paying for car removal and meter charges since probably a year after the Boston Bombings, give or take.”

While ACPD offered to work with Beth McGinn to find a solution, she says she just does not see a way forward right now that keeps the race in Fairlington. Too many people use street parking, and relocating the race may result in fewer participants.

“What made our [race] so successful was also its downfall,” she said. “Thanks to the volume and density of Fairlington, we were able to turn out a lot of people. The civic association, the schools and the farmer’s market would promote it. There’s not that buy-in from everybody if I move it to a park.”

She says she understands the perspective of the police department. In addition to the incidents on the Fairlington 5K course last year, there have been a number of incidents in the last three years in which drivers have intentionally driven into crowds at community fundraisers, protests and foot races.

“It’s coming from a good place,” the mother said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt during my race, either… Right now, that’s the world we’re in.”

Although the race is canceled, Beth McGinn says people are still donating to the cause. The race has raised some $130,000 for research, per the race website, while the A Cure For Ellie cause has raised some $2 million, per the Cure LBSL website.

Right now, there are two drugs in clinical development. Beth McGinn says she hopes these could stop the disease’s progression in Ellie’s body and even help her daughter recover some mobility.

The disease has progressed to the point that Ellie uses a wheelchair at school and for long distances. Still, her mother makes sure to count her blessings.

“She’s a happy camper,” Beth said. “That’s a blessing.”

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