The Safe Streets 5K run, in honor of the late Oren Bennaiem who was struck in a hit-and-run incident on Middle Neck Road two years ago, attracted more than 100 runners, volunteers and politicians to Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park on Grace Avenue on Sunday, Oct. 7.
Participants included athletes from the Great Neck North Cross Country team and the Great Neck South football team, along with community members looking to educate younger generations about the importance of road safety.
Perhaps the youngest runner was an 8 year old named Max Berger, who runs not just for the exercise but for spreading a positive and inspirational message.
The somber mood during the speech by Bennaiem’s widow, Jivanna, quickly turned into an energetic and celebratory atmosphere, with Berger being one of the most excited and passionate runners among a field of marathon veterans and high-school athletes.
The E.M. Baker Elementary School student came in third out of 104 runners, completing the race in just 23 minutes at a 7:25-mile pace.
Berger was congratulated by a slew of North Shore Action members, his fast times proving that Berger can not only run fast but also puts his best foot forward during these events, appreciating and supporting the cause.
“We encourage him to do the best that he can every time he runs a race, but it’s his decision whether or not he runs,” said Mark Berger, Max’s father. “We feel that is the best way to cultivate his love of running.”
Berger has attended events like Run as One to raise awareness and funding in combating lung cancer, Achilles Hope and Possibility to appreciate how those with disabilities overcome obstacles daily and Blazing Trials for Autism where he finished first for his age group.
The young runner’s father said that he takes his son to these events to “stay fit and to help a very important charity,” encouraging his son to understand how running three or four miles at a time can save lives and honor those who died fighting for what they believed in.
“We always speak to Max about being defensive when he is walking, running or crossing the street,” Mark Berger said. “Your finish time doesn’t matter, because by showing up to run, you’ve already won.”
Read more about the Safer Streets 5K and take the pledge here.