By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Eli Pontius was raring to go well before the starting line.
He and his twin brother, J.C., were going to have an easy time finishing Saturday's Bridge the Gap to Health 5K leisure walk -- thanks to a stroller ride courtesy of their mom, Gina Pontius.
"They're going to have a blast," the Palmyra, Mo., woman said. "We brought snacks. We're ready for anything."
The nearly 2-year-old twins brought along their dad, who pushed another stroller for their older sister, and their grandpa, who did the event last year and wanted to get the rest of the family involved.
"It's fun. You get some exercise. You get to come and bond with the family," Pontius said.
Laurie and Mark Frese drove 13 hours from Houston just to be with nearly 20 family members in Quincy to walk across the Bayview and Memorial bridges.
"It's a beautiful event. I haven't done it before," Laurie Frese said.
Frese's mom, Norla Neill, hasn't missed a Bridge the Gap, now in its 13th year. She's seen the event grow over time and liked seeing her daughter get involved.
"I'm going to try to work up to a 5K run, maybe not next year, but the year after," Frese said. "We just talked about making this a family event where we come back and try to have a family reunion."
Race Director Carrie Kimber said runners, walkers and families all contribute to the event's success.
"We have record numbers this year, beautiful weather and lots of smiling faces," Kimber said. "What keeps people coming out year after year is, they're doing great things for our community. Not only are they doing great things for themselves and doing the 5K, 10k or half marathon, we're doing it all for our community. Our community is coming together to support our community."
All money raised in the event goes to the Quincy Catholic Charities MedAssist Program, which helps people without Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance to get needed medications.
"We come together as a community and really support the people in the community who need the help," Kimber said. "I couldn't be more proud at this moment of our community."
Tina Hammel of Palmyra took pride in walking her second 5K event in as many months.
"My goal this summer is to do a community event like this, a 5K, each month all summer long," Hammel said. "Maybe one of these days I'll work up from a leisure walker to a competitive walker."
The events provide an excuse for Hammel and her husband, Paul, to get more active -- and they both enjoyed the Bridge the Gap so much last year that they couldn't wait to do it again.
"It's just an amazing experience walking across the bridges," she said. "We're both trying to get back into doing more exercise. I've lost more than 80 pounds myself. It's been a lot of walking."
Tanner Arntzen, a Quincyan heading into his junior year at St. Ambrose University in the Quad Cities, preferred running the 5K.
"It's a good cause. I like to support the community and stay in shape myself," said Arntzen, who runs cross country and track in school and finished in just over 18 minutes. "I like the Quincy race and to come back here and run with all the people from my hometown."
The enjoyment people find in walking and running across the bridges encourages others to join in the next year.
"We're growing each year, which makes it even better," Kimber said. "It's a great way for Quincy to showcase itself."
Dot Foods teamed up with Quincy Catholic Charities and Quincy Medical Group to support area health and wellness.
The Mount Sterling-based company donated $10,000 to the Bridge the Gap to Health, which supports the MedAssist program.
"We're delighted to be a part of the Bridge the Gap to Health Race," Dot Foods Charitable Committee Chairman Suzy Kassing said. "It's a very important event to the health of this region and community that benefits a great cause."
Since 2008, Dot Foods has donated $76,568 to the Quincy Catholic Charities Food Pantry and Bridge the Gap to Health.
In 12 years, Bridge the Gap to Health has raised $445,506 to help MedAssist serve 3,460 clients.
The MedAssist program helps area residents without Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance coverage get needed medications. The program has secured over $10.7 million worth of medications for the Quincy community in 12 years.