The Hollidaysburg Area YMCA's July 4 Race has long been an established community tradition.
Today, that tradition hits a milestone.
The 40th edition of the holiday race unfolds this morning, with the start of the 15K men's and women's races, the 5K men's and women's races, and the two-mile walk set to start at 8 a.m. on 12th Avenue, near the Mishler Theater.
The finish line for each event is located on 11th Avenue, near the Heritage Plaza.
The popularity of the July 4 races has been growing with time, according to Hollidaysburg Area YMCA Executive Director Tom Kopriva.
"The first year was 1973 [when the race was sponsored by the Altoona Area YMCA], and this will be the 40th year for the race,'' Kopriva said. "We believe it's the oldest race in the area, and last year, we eclipsed 1,000 participants for all the events. We expect to go over 1,000 again this year. This is a really big race.''
A.J. Kelly, 32, of Altoona, has competed in the 15K men's race 11 times since 2000, and he has won the event six times, including last year.
"It's a great race,'' Kelly said. "I look forward to doing it every year. It's a good community event.''
Familiarity with the 15K course is an asset for Kelly.
"I'm expecting good competition, but I'm still confident,'' he said. "I'm definitely familiar with the course, and I think that helps. Plus, living here the entire year-around, I do parts of my training on the course.''
Two years ago, the name of the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA July 4 Race was changed to the Angie Gioiosa Memorial Race. Gioiosa, a local distance runner and member of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, left an indelible mark on the area's running community.
Gioiosa, who passed away in 2011, was one of a small group of people who were instrumental in pitching the idea for the July 4 race to members of the Altoona Area YMCA and getting the first race off the ground back in 1973. The Hollidaysburg Area YMCA took over sponsorship of the race in 1993, after the Altoona Area YMCA had closed its doors.
"Angie, Jack Foreman, and Jack's son, John, were founders of this race,'' Kopriva said. "After Angie passed away a couple years ago, we felt that it was fitting to attach his name to this race because he was a running icon in Blair County.''
Along with the 15K and 5K races and two-mile walk, the July 4 races will again include what are called short Lollipop Races for children ages 3-7. The same-day race registration fee for the 15K, 5K and two-mile events today is $30, while there is no fee for the Lollipop Races, and the youngsters will be awarded treat bags at the conclusion of the event.
That's just another part of the fabulous community tradition of the holiday event.
"We've sort of made the July 4 Race the keystone of our Hollidaysburg YMCA Community Challenge Wellness Series of eight races,'' Kopriva said. "I think the running community in this area has grown, and this Wellness Series gives people a reason to keep on training.''