By Elisa Krochmalnyckyj

The first-ever “Burgess Bear 5K Run/Walk” Sunday, Sept. 23 is aimed at doing more than just raising funds for next year’s Burgess Elementary School 6th-grade ecology trip.

“It’s a window into an activity that may be new to a lot of people — running and walking,” said race director Christine Neslusan. “And it seems like a unique way to raise funds.”

There will be prizes for the winners of the race, which will appeal to competitive runners, but really, the idea is to have a fundraiser that gets families out of the house and involved in something new.

“We’re trying to keep it light, fun and simple, especially in this inaugural year,” Neslusan said. With just about all of the 5K’s expenses covered by sponsors, all of the registration fees will be used to offset the cost of the three-day-two-night 6th-grade trip, which has historically been held at Ferry Beach on the Maine shore in September and is a rite of passage for the district’s 6th-graders.

“I went when I was at Burgess in the ’80s,” Neslusan said. “I think about that trip all the time. We learned about the science and ecology of ocean life and the importance it plays in our world. For me, it sparked an interest in science.”
That spark eventually led Neslusan to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she earned a degree in the science of exercise — making her the ideal choice for the Burgess Bear 5K race director.

The Burgess Bear 5K is modeled after the annual Holland Elementary School 5K. Holland Elementary School, which is in the Tantasqua Regional School District with Sturbridge, uses the money from its 5K for its 6th-graders to attend the Ferry Beach trip. While having a 5K to raise money for the Sturbridge 6th-graders may be new to Sturbridge, having to find ways to help defray the cost of the trip isn’t.

“Every year at Burgess there is a 5th-grade fundraising team, and every year the idea of a 5K is kicked around,” said Neslusan, who this year will have a 5th-grader, 3rd-grader, and kindergartener at Burgess. “It’s not a new idea, but this year we finally said ‘Maybe it’s time to do this.”

The event begins with the 9 a.m. Kids’ Fun Run, which is a 1/2-mile trek on Burgess’s upper field that elementary-school students ages 12 and under can choose. The 5K kicks off at 9:30 at the school. It can be run, walked or even strolled by anyone of any age, Neslusan said. “We really want for everyone in the community to feel they can come out and support their school and feel comfortable at whatever level they’re at,” she said, then laughed. “Some of the organizers have already said “I’m just going to walk.” Those walkers may have to move aside for the serious runners.

“If you are competitive, you can absolutely take the lead and go ahead,” Neslusan said. “If not, you can just enjoy the course, which is going to flow through the neighborhoods surrounding Burgess.”

Sturbridge mom Tracy Rapose signed up early to join the 5K with her son, Jack, and daughter, Rachel. “Ferry Beach was such a great experience for both of them,” she said. “They formed relationships with classmates they wouldn’t have formed by just going to school. And for my kids, it was the first time they had any independence away from home.”

The 5K will be fun on so many levels. “Doing the 5K is a great family event,” Rapose said. “For us, it’s not about winning. It’s about supporting our school — well, our old school, because the sad part is my kids are done there. And it’s about exercise, and seeing a lot of people we haven’t seen in a while.”

Rapose loves the idea of having a local 5K as a fundraiser. “I think it is phenomenal that they are doing one major event instead of a lot of smaller ones,” she said, adding that she is happy to be donating to the cause. “And I would never want to see a child not be able to go to Ferry Beach because of the money.”

Interest and support for the Burgess Bear 5K has been growing. “We’ve gotten great reception from the running groups in the area,” Neslusan said. “They’ve been registering for the race and helping us by putting fliers in the race bags they give out, and by telling people about us.”

Bigger picture. The Burgess Bear 5K fits in well with the school’s efforts to get students to think outside the box of traditional team sports like football, soccer, basketball, and baseball.

“Some kids like solo activities, like walking or running,” Neslusan said. “And even the kids who love team sports, a lot of them run too. Anyone who wants to be competitive can be competitive — against others, or just against themselves. You don’t need much to do it. Just sneakers.”

Burgess has been promoting the joys and benefits of running and walking over the past few years. “In the spring, one of the teachers did a running club, and it was great,” Neslusan said. “And every year, the gym teachers do the jog-a-thon, which is the PTO’s major fundraiser.”

Principal Kathleen Pelley said she plans to run the race. She has participated in several other local road races, including the annual Turkey Trot with Ted., which raises funds for the district, and the Holland Elementary 5K that inspired the Burgess Bear. Before doing anything else, Pelley contacted the organizers of those events to make sure she wouldn’t be stepping on any toes. “Both of them came back to me and encouraged me to do it,” Pelley said. “They told me ‘the more races we have, the more interest we’ll generate.’ She’s right. People in the community like to do races you don’t have to drive far for.”

The pre-registration fee for the Burgess Bear 5K is $25 for adults, and $15 for the 12-and-under elementary-student rate. The day of the race, all registration is $25, except for the Kids Fun Run, which is $5.

Pelley said she is pleased to be finally having the Burgess Bear 5K raising funds for the 6th-grade trip. “It’s something that everyone can do, it’s an amazing opportunity to bring families and everyone else together, it promotes a healthy lifestyle — and it keeps some of the expenses of the Ferry Beach trip off the back of parents,” she said. “I think this is something that is going to continue to get momentum and get better and better every year.”

To register, log on to

The Sturbridge Times Town & Country Living Magazine


The Sturbridge Times Town & Country Living Magazine has been publishing 11 issues a year, with no January issue, since July, 2007. Our parent company, Strategen Advertising, Inc., is a healthcare marketing firm specializing in medical practice development and marketing medical equipment. Our publication is unique in that it offers agency-quality advertising creative services to our local advertisers.

The Sturbridge Times Town & Country Living Magazine is mailed to every home in Sturbridge and Fiskdale and in selected homes in 10 other surrounding communities. For advertising information, contact Paul Carr at 508-296-9299 or 508-450-8198. Queries for editorial submissions should be directed to: