ROGERS CITY - The third annual Autism Speaks 5K race and walk in Rogers City is Saturday.
The race will begin at 10 a.m. at the Lakeside Park Pavilion, organizer Hilary Viegelahn said, and walkers will start 15 minutes later. Participants will follow a bike trail in the city, with most of the course following Lake Huron's shore.
All proceeds from the event will go to the Michigan chapter of Autism Speaks, Viegelahn said. It's an organization that funds research on autism spectrum disorder, as well as advocating for those diagnosed with the disorder.
Viegelahn founded the race three years ago because of how the disorder has affected her family, as well as her volunteer work with children with special needs, she said. Her nephew, Jay, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. When she was in high school, she worked with special-needs children through a program called LINKS.
"I wanted to raise awareness in our community, because a lot of people don't know about (autism), or don't have a lot of information about it," she said.
Viegelahn took another high school experience - her time on the cross country team - and started the Autism Walks 5K race and walk, she said. So far, she's received more support than she could've imagined, raising more than $14,000 over the last two years.
What: Autism Speaks 5K race and walk
Where: Lakeside Park pavilion, Rogers City
When: Saturday, registration starts at 8 a.m., race begins at 10 a.m., walk begins at 10:15 a.m.
Cost is $20 to participate
"The main support behind this is my autistic nephew," she said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here doing all of this, so really the credit goes to him."
Around 300 racers typically sign up, Viegelahn said, adding she expects about the same participation level this year. While it's too late to pre-register, participants can register on the day of the race, starting at 8 a.m. The cost is $20 to participate, which includes an event T-shirt.
While Viegelahn does a lot of the work putting the race together, she also gets help from her family and other volunteers, she said. She's especially grateful for the support she gets from the community.
"I'm just very thankful and appreciative of my whole community, because they've done more and above and beyond than I ever expected to support my family and all families affected by autism," she said. "The community support has made a huge difference, and that's what this event is all about."
For more information about the race, visit the website, at www.rcautismrun.com.