NORMAL — Bloomington resident Michelle Singleton doesn’t run much, but she still had one of those New Year’s resolutions for 2016 unfilled as the calendar hit November.

“I told myself at the beginning of the year, that I was going to run in a 5k race at some point,” she said Sunday, moments after walking across the finish line for the 29th annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis at Heartland Community College in Normal. “My sister participated in this last year and so I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I would go in this one. I did it. Now, the goal is to make this an annual event.”

Singleton was one of about 650 runners who participated Sunday, helping raise awareness and funds for Arthritis Foundation-funded research, programs and services. Entrants paid $30 to run in the race. Some formed teams and helped raise funds by collecting pledges.

“It’s been incredible, just incredible,” said Lucy Mardis, Central Illinois development manager for the Arthritis Foundation. “It’s been a great day. The weather is perfect and because of that, we had a lot of walk-ups who had not registered and so that really helps raise our total.”

Final totals were not available Sunday night, but Mardis said she expected to surpass the $45,000 goal set by organizers. McLean County Orthopedics is the presenting sponsor.

“They gave us a large gift and that will propel us to make our goal and we are very thankful to them and are proud that we are going to be able to hit our goal,” she said.

Mardis joined the foundation in August and said she is grateful that so many people in McLean County stepped up to participate.

“I looked at trying to raise our goal from $32,000, which is what we raised last year, to $45,000 and knew it would be tough,” she said. “When I went to McLean County Orthopedics and asked their CEO, Don Stumpp, if they would partner with us, he did not hesitate. I am hoping that they continue this partnership with us for years to come.”

Mardis said that fun runs have become popular as fundraising events, and some runners have to choose.

“I didn’t realize that until I got this job, but there are a lot of similar events out there and to have this many people choose us is very special,” she said. “They don’t just come and run, but they also fund raise and help raise awareness and funds for arthritis research.”

Fleet Feet Sports of Bloomington was recognized as the top fundraiser on Sunday.

“They brought over 60 runners and they are a running club, but they didn’t just come as a running club, they came as a fundraising running club and raised over $3,000 and they are a champion today for us, too,” she said.

Two honorees, Dawn Paul, of Bloomington, and Ava Jones, 3, of Metamora were recognized Sunday. Both suffer from arthritis and were previously profiled by The Pantagraph.

“I think it’s great to see the people who suffer from arthritis at an event like this, because I want to participate to help them,” said Ben Rawlins of Normal. “I have participated in this event for 10 years. I just think it gets better every year.”

Mardis said she is already starting to think about next year’s run, which will mark 30 years.

“I can’t wait to get started on that one,” she said. “This one has been fantastic and we have a lot of work to do to wrap it up, but I think next year is going to be a special one, too.”

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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