Sallarulo’s Race for Champions unifies community

By Emmett Hall, South Florida Community News correspondent.

Anyone who participates in the popular Sallarulo’s Race for Champions shows the heart of a champion as members of the community continue to support and stand united with Special Olympics Florida - Broward County. More than 1,000 runners and walkers joined over 300 volunteers and sponsors at Nova Southeastern University in Davie for the 14th annual Sallarulo’s Race for Champions.

The Special Olympics is leading a revolution of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities and no where is that more evident than the 5K run on the campus at Nova Southeastern University.

Fort Lauderdale resident Sergio Cano said he is proud to call himself a Special Olympics athlete and is as competitive as any athlete who laces up the sneakers for a road race. At the starting line, he displays the heart of a champion and is not only looking to run his best but also to win, especially against runners without disabilities.

“This race means a lot to me because I am always looking to improve myself because I’m an athlete,” Cano said. “I just want to get better and better, and hope I get chosen for the track and field team. I like being an athlete and I feel like this is my race.”

Cano has competed in Sallarulo’s race for eight years and has been the overall male champion twice. He was hoping to defend his 2018 crown and was content, although somewhat disappointed, to take second place this time around.

“Other racers are surprised to find out I’m a Special Olympics athlete and that makes me feel good,” he said. “They may not know who I am, but they will. I’m 31 years old and I’m in my prime right now. This is a special race for me, and I’ll keep on coming out. After this, I will be competing in softball and basketball, but track and field is my favorite sport.”

In the men’s overall race, it was a tight finish with Carlos Bermudez Rojas capturing first place in a time of 18:38 followed by Cano (18:39) and Roey Perl (18:39.3). In the women’s final, Emily Daycock took first place (20:00) with Carly Rothert and Kelsey Brazitis taking the silver and bronze medals.

Top male finishers at the Sallarulo's Race for Champions 5K race share a championship pose at Nova Southeastern University. From left, Sergio Cano, Peixiang Liu, Carlos Bermudez Rojas and Roey Perl. (Emmett Hall)

A Carnival of Champions that featured a brunch, entertainment, games and keynote speakers immediately followed the race.

State Rep. Chip LaMarca, former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony and singing icon Connie Francis joined race founders Paul, Patrick and Samantha Sallarulo on stage to pay tribute and give thanks for the support that is given to Broward County. About $8 million has been raised since the inception of the race with all proceeds.  LaMarca said he is a proud and ardent supporter of Sallarulo’s Race for Champions.

“Paul (Sallarulo) is a very good friend of mine and I’m on the honorary board for Special Olympics Florida - Broward,” he said. "This race was started in the memory of Paul’s parents and family and it does a tremendous amount of good for the organization. They put all the necessary resources where they need to be so they can have all the athletic events throughout the year. This is one event you don’t want to miss, and these athletes are very special.”

Premier sponsors for the 2019 Race for Champions were Tommy Hartmann and Michele Cousin; Champion sponsors were Nova Southeastern University and Broward Health; Titanium sponsors were Harry T. Mangurian, Jr. Foundation, A.J. Nassar & Michelle Pesonen and I. Lorraine Thomas.