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Polar Bear Run will benefit Guiding Eyes for the Blind

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KENT—The date is drawing near for the 39th annual Lake Waramaug Polar Bear Run, which is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Ed and Stephanie Raftery pose with Corinne and Corbin, puppies they are socializing for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the beneficiary charity of the Feb. 25 Lake Waramaug Polar Bear Run. The puppies are seven weeks old and eating and sleeping well.   

Race organizers Ed and Stephanie Raftery, co-founders of TrailHeads, a Kent-based enterprise, have been at the helm of the event since 2018. That year also marked the start of a partnership with Guiding Eyes for the Blind as the event’s charitable beneficiary.

“Our family has been involved with Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s puppy socialization program for 12 years,” said Stephanie Raftery. “We’ve hosted more than 90 puppies during that time.”

Ed Raftery has a degenerative eye disease and his experience with vision loss was one of the key factors that led to their partnership with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  

The 7.8-mile loop of picturesque Lake Waramaug attracts hundreds of area runners and benefits Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The race is limited to 700 participants and so far has raised $24,000 with a goal of $40,000.

The scenic course travels counterclockwise along the shoreline of the glacial lake while passing through Washington, Warren and Kent. The route is primarily flat with a few gentle rolling hills. The final .2 miles provides a true test for all as runners ascend Hopkins Hill to the finish line at Hopkins Vineyard.

The top three male and female finishers receive prizes. First place overall wins a $100 TrailHeads gift card and a bottle of wine from Hopkins Vineyard. Age group awards are presented for the top three in each category.

Much like the lake itself, the race has an interesting history. Its origins can be traced back to the running boom that swept the country in the 1970s. The Woodbury-based Tin Man Athletic Club staged the initial run around the frozen lake in 1980. Lead Pack Sports took over organizational efforts and they were followed by the Bethel Bananas Running Club in 1986.

The annual Lake Waramaug Polar Bear Run, set for Feb. 25, will benefit Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Photo by Muddy Socks Photography

From 1987-1991 what had been the area’s only winter running race went into hibernation and the race was not held for five years. In 1991, Wallie Jahn opened a retail store for runners, Road & Track Sports, and in response to strong interest from the local running community, he resurrected the race in 1992 with the help of the Lake Waramaug Country Club.

After Jahn fell ill, Dave Dunleavy stepped up to help manage the race in 2012. A long-time Kent resident and running enthusiast, Dunleavy continued to build on the tradition that has made the Polar Bear Run a favorite of area runners. In 2018, Dunleavy handed off the race-organizing responsibilities to the Rafterys.

Registration is currently open. Click here for pre-registration. Race day registration takes place at Hopkins Vineyards starting at 9:30 a.m.

Race day parking is available in the lot located 200 yards north of Hopkins Vineyard (access via Hopkins Road). Additional parking is available near the intersection of North Shore Rd and Hopkins Rd. Please consider carpooling with fellow runners.

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