Runners were ready to brave the cold for the 36th annual Polar Bear Run on Sunday, Feb. 23.

The 7.6 mile scenic road race route travels counterclockwise around Lake Waramaug through the towns of Washington, Warren and Kent. “It’s a stunningly beautiful course, and relatively flat, too,” said Ed Raferty. He, along with his wife Stephanie Raferty, have been the race directors and organizers for the past few years.

For the third year in a row, this event will benefit Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit organization that provides seeing-eye dogs to people with visual impairments. “Our family has been involved personally with this organization for about 10 years,” Ed explained, noting that he has a degenerative eye disease.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, with facilities in Yorktown and Patterson in New York, raises, trains and places over 160 guide dogs each year, providing those in need with a furry helper and companion at no cost. Thus far, the race has raised over $6,000 the past two years for this charity with a goal of reaching the $10,000 mark.

The Polar Bear Run is the oldest winter road race in the state; the first event was held in 1980. Initially established by the Woodbury-based Tin Man Athletic Club, the race changed hands a couple of times and experienced a 5-year hiatus from 1987 to 1991. However, in 1992, Wallie Jahn, owner of a former running equipment retail store, revived the race with the help of the Lake Waramaug Country Club.

In 2012, avid runner and longtime Kent resident Dave Dunleavy became involved. In 2018, Ed and Stephanie Raferty, owners of Trailheads, a company that designs innovative running and outdoor accessories, took over the race as its organizers and directors.

The wider community also pitches in to make this event a success — the Brookfield high school track team and students from South Kent School manned water stations along the route, and the Kent Lions Club provided volunteers to help with parking, registration, refreshments and more.

Last year, about 350 runners from across Connecticut and New York turned out to participate, and this year, more than 500 took to the streets. The first 300 registrants received a complimentary Trailheads trucker cap to commemorate the occasion.

“Pulling together the Polar Bear Run is one of the highlights of our year. It’s incredibly fulfilling to see hundreds of runners from all over Connecticut and beyond come out to enjoy a run around this beautiful lake while raising money for Guiding Eyes,” said Stephanie.

Following the race, a celebratory Post Polar Party was held at Hopkins Vineyard in Warren.

For more information visit www.trailheads.com /lakewaramaug polarbearrun/.

Connecticut Media Group