Hog Jog now sponsored by Christian Outreach

Published 12:38 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2016

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

It’s been roughly 15 years since groups clad in pig costumes were first spotted trotting a 5K around Smithfield in mid-October.

The annual Smithfield Hog Jog has since become one of the biggest attractions at Smithfield’s Town and Country Day festival, and last year raked in $18,000 for the Christian Outreach Program, a consortium of churches in Isle of Wight County that raises money for the needy, and that is now in charge of organizing the event.  

This year, the COP expects to draw nearly 1,000 attendees to the jog, on top of the 10,000 expected to come out for the Town and Country Day vintage market.  

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Though the large numbers are good for the success of the charity race, they have also been the cause of some problems for the COP, which was pressured into rescheduling its annual “Souper Saturday” due to parking issues created by the Oct. 8 tourism-sponsored fest. COP’s Souper Saturday, which has traditionally been held the same day of the Hog Jog, was moved to the week after the race, on Oct. 15. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Future Hog Jogs may face a similar fate, according to COP President Barbara Stafford, who is considering moving the day of the event to avoid Town and Country Day crowds as well.

“We will see what happens with the vintage market and the other Town and Country Day activities and see how that impacts our runners being able to get into town, find a place to park and run safely through town,” said Stafford. “But we’re good to go this year.”

All of the money raised by the Hog Jog will go directly to COP, which aims to provide dental assistance, emergency assistance, a food pantry and more for Isle of Wight County families in need.

Though the proceeds of the popular jog have always served to benefit the church-based organization, the event has only been organized by COP for the past two years.

The 14 years prior to the COP taking over, the jog was put together by a small committee of Smithfield residents, a committee which included Kyle Weidlich, who directed the race for 10 years.

Weidlich, who has since moved to Hampton, said the committee typically fluctuated between four and five members each year. It was in 2014, when two members decided to step down, that they began to consider passing the torch.

“It was more of a situation where the idea was kind of floated that we were interested to try and find someone else to take it over,” Weidlich said.

The COP was there to pick up the slack.

“Because it’s such an incredibly wonderful fundraiser for COP, we couldn’t let it go,” Stafford said.

Weidlich said he and the committee were glad that the organization of the event would be kept within the community.

“It was made easier that they had the manpower and resources to continue,” Weidlich said of the decision to hand over the event to COP.   

After COP committed to hosting the 5K in 2015, the directorial reigns were given to Robin Gearey, a friend of Stafford’s who she approached to manage the race.

Gearey, who had known Stafford through church, was an experienced runner, but had never been directly involved in setting up an event like the Hog Jog before.

“It was challenging, because I kind of got it late in the planning stages,” Gearey said.

However, Gearey said that she has had more time to find her footing this year.

“It’s going good,” said Gearey. “We’re all excited.”

Besides the COP, The Peninsula Track Club, an organization of runners that has been a fixture in the event since the beginning, will also play a role in the event, though a slightly less involved one than it did two years ago, according to the club’s president Joe Harney.

“It’s like anything … it takes a lot of work,” said Harney. “We needed some new blood.”

The club, which charges $300 for the use of its equipment at the event, has been busy, organizing close to 40 races every year, according to Harney. However, it will still work at the Hog Jog, with volunteers working to time the event, electronically keep track of the winners and keep runners moving in the right direction.

“We have the best volunteers in the world,” Harney said.  {/mprestriction}