COVINGTON — Donna McDaniel turned 37 on Sept. 15, 1984, and decided to celebrate her birthday by running a race. She chose to run in the inaugural Fuzz Run Covington Police Department, a community-wide road race sponsored by the Covington Police Department.
“I decided that it was a present to myself,” McDaniel said. “I had just started running and I wanted to do this for myself and prove to myself that I could do it.”
McDaniel was one of about 12 runners — and one of only four females — participating in that first Fuzz Run. She said she remembered all the women were well behind the male runners, but she was determined not to be the last one to cross the finish line, which at that time was at City Pond Park.
“I felt the ambulance pushing us from behind because we were so far back, so I started sprinting,” McDaniel recalled. “I came in ahead of one other woman.”
The following year, the Fuzz Run was changed from a 5K to a 10K and McDaniel didn’t feel comfortable running a 6-mile race, so she sat it out. Ever since, though, the Fuzz Run has resumed as a 5K and she has made participating in the race an annual tradition. For the next 29 years, McDaniel hasn’t missed one – even in 2009 when she broke her foot and her son pushed her in a wheelchair for the 1-mile fun run.
Over the years, McDaniel has placed in a number of Fuzz Run races and in 1998 won the Grand Master’s title for runners 50 and older.
“I never started out to run in all of the Fuzz Runs,” McDaniel said. “I have always enjoyed it – it’s a local race, supports good causes and it’s always around my birthday, so it’s my gift to myself.”
McDaniel has made participating in the Fuzz Run a priority each year, scheduling events around race day and even going late to a few family camping trips.
McDaniel has long gotten over her intimidation of running in a 10K. In 1986, she ran in her first Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta and has competed each year since 1991, until this year when foot surgery sidelined her. McDaniel completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 2004 and in 2007, the year she retired from serving 32 years as office manager for Newton Mental Health, she participated in the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk.
McDaniel trained for years running around Covington during her lunch breaks. Today, she works out about three times a week at the Covington Family Y. Due to surgery on both feet earlier this year, she primarily trains on the elliptical machine and does light weightlifting.
Since 1984, the Fuzz Run has grown in popularity. CPD Det. Chip Shirah, who, along with Capt. Ken Malcom and Capt. Willie Davis, has helped organize the race. He said the route has changed over the years to accommodate the increasing numbers of participants. For the past several years, the route has begun and ended at Baker Field, across from the Police Department, just off the Square. In 2012, 2,200 runners participated in the race.
“I used to go to lots of races,” McDaniel said. “I have tons and tons of T-shirts.”
But it’s the Fuzz Run that remains her favorite. “It’s always been one of my favorites,” she said. “I enjoy the familiarity of the course, they have great door prizes and I get to see a lot of friends.”