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AYER — Janice Bresnahan, a 1989 Ayer High alumnus, dedicated her life and work to the education of children. She was also an avid runner. Her life ended too soon in a tragic accident, leaving a wide and varied network of devoted family and friends, some of whom came together nine years ago to create an event that would do justice to her legacy.

Thus the Janis Bresnahan 5K Run for Education was born. Today, it’s a local tradition.

With the ninth annual Janis Bresnahan 5K Run for Education set for Sunday, May 19, Betsy (Bresnahan) Dolan sat down with a Nashoba Publishing reporter recently to talk about the upcoming event, highlighting features added to the program this year.

Sketching the chronology of the run, Dolan said the event has grown in size and scope since the Bresnahan family, some of their friends and the nonprofit Ayer Education Foundation (now the Ayer-Shirley Education Foundation) launched it nine years ago.

“We’ve had sleet, lots of rain, lightning delays, and a couple of years of sunshine, but we’re not weather-dependent,” she said. “They’ve all been successful events.”

The Tot Trot was added in the event’s 7th year, Dolan said. Open to children 6 years old and younger, the little ones signed up for the trot (1- to 3-year-olds) run around an age-appropriate “course” on the school playing fields, while the older kids do part of the track. Noting that the event begins with the trot, she said it generates lots of smiles and cheers.

“It sets the tone,” Dolan said of the Tot Trot, and it draws families from other towns as well as Ayer and Shirley. “They compliment us on a great event for the kids,” she said, noting that it’s followed by supervised activities geared to the younger set, such as coloring, face painting, Lego-building and an obstacle course set up by the Page-Hilltop Panther Leadership Group, organized by Principal Fred Deppe.

“It’s wonderful for families and little ones to take part in a fun day,” she said. And it’s good for students who are not running to get involved, too, including track-and-field teams and other high-school volunteers helping out that day.

If it rains, most of the activities will be held inside the high school.

Asked about special set-ups for handicapped participants, Dolan said there’s no separate category, such as the wheelchair event in the Boston Marathon. But the Bresnahan Run is open to everyone, and organizers will try to accommodate anyone who wants to participate, “if we can,” she said.

A new addition this year is the 2K run, geared to kids 7 years old and up who may not be ready yet to run a 5-mile course but who are “aging out” of the Tot Trot.

The short course loops around the track once, then twice around the school’s two baseball fields and back onto the track for one more loop.

When talk turned to this year’s Boston Marathon incidents and tragic aftermath, Dolan said she addressed that issue when she talked to middle-school students about the Bresnahan run, which benefits the Ayer-Shirley Education Foundation and in turn helps to fund numerous school programs supported by ASEF grants.

She told them that running is a great sport and that the Bresnahan Run is a “great way to take part” in it, Dolan said. With the marathon races and the Boston runners in mind, “we’re honoring the sport locally,” she said. “And it gives back to the school district.”

Enjoying physical activity and the outdoors is part of it, too, and there’s plenty of hoopla for spectators, including a band that starts playing at noon, kicking off the 5K run.

The event features a competitive 5K run through Ayer, starting and ending at the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School on Washington Street. Registration is at 9:30 a.m., followed by the Tot Trot at 10:30 a.m., and the 2K Fun Run/Walk at 11:15 a.m.

For information, to register or to make online donations, visit

Next week: spotlight on event sponsors.