Middlefield resident Jennifer Schulten stands at a work bench in her garage, hot glue gun in one hand and fake berries in the other. She glues the finishing touches on a homemade trophy that started as a simple stocking hook.
Schulten spends a month each year creating one-of-a-kind homemade trophies for the winners of two annual 5Ks, organized by Go Far, a program she founded 12 years ago.
“Every year we make our own trophies and we try to bring a new tradition to you by creating these trophies that are either donated or found … and we try to recreate them or reimagine them,” Schulten said.
This time of year she’s working on a holiday-themed batch for the Go Far Jingle All the Way 5K, which will be held on Sunday, Dec. 16. The course starts and finishes at Powder Ridge Park in Middlefield.
Trophies go to the top three finishers overall, to the top three runners in each age group and about 10 are reserved for the most “festive” runners. The trophies are laid out on a large table and winners get to pick which one they want.
“It gives it a unique feeling and unique experience,” Schulten said. “Everything's so commercialized now, this takes the commercialized feeling totally out of the picture and that's our goal, to keep it organic and keep it homegrown.”
Schulten created the Go Far program as a way to engage youngsters in an activity that teaches them goal-setting and gives them a productive use of their energy. Over the years, the program has evolved and welcomed adults and seniors into the mix.
The group has two big annual 5Ks, one in the summer and one just before the holidays.
The summer one is more geared toward the kids, buddying up the youngest with the oldest students to run together, but also has distances for adults to participate too. The holiday one was started about four years ago in an effort to appeal to more adults and families of all ages, and to give people something to do during the holiday other than running around shopping, Schulten said.
While the event can be a great thing for families to do together, Schulten encourages people without families to come too and enjoy the holidays with fellow community members.
“You build a community by communicating, and people just don't do that these days,” Schulten said. “We have a great community here in Durham and Middlefield and we like to bring people together.”
Schulten estimates about two solid weeks of 8-hour work days go into making about 80 trophies.
She and fellow Go Far organizer Mary Beth Gossart start by cutting, sanding and painting wooden bases and build from there. The most time-consuming parts happen to be building the bases and looking for items to use on them.
“It's a process, and it's kind of a long process. It's not an immediate gratification, which is the whole theme around Go Far,” Schulten said. “We try to teach kids to try to make long-term goals and make them happen and learn to love the process … and being proud of the work that you do.”
The trophies have gotten more elaborate over the years. The first ones were just Popsicle sticks the kids collected every lap, that they glittered and put into votive candle holders.
Now the trophies are made from a variety of materials largely collected from Goodwill, Home Depot, tag sales and much that have been donated.
Gossart, who started a Go Far program at the former Korn Elementary School, said all the effort and work is worthwhile.
“When we hand somebody one of our handmade trophies, the smile on their face is just amazing,” Gossart said.
Some trophies are weird. Others are very traditional. Some are elegant or classic.
But at the end of the day, runners take home the trophy that speaks to them the most.
“There's something about when they get something that makes them feel special, it really does make you feel whole, and that really is a big part of Go Far,” Schulten said. “We really need to get back to making people feel whole again.”