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Race Against Cerebral Palsy Fueled by Pasta


Talk about carbohydrate load. Piles of fettuccine and tortellini were on hand Saturday night to help rev up runners who would compete in Sunday's Bastille Day eight-kilometer run in Newport Beach.

The dinner at the Hotel Meridien--the first half of an annual benefit for Cerebral Palsy--found experienced runners twirling pasta alongside fidgety novices. But their high-spirited chattiness hushed when KNBC-TV reporter Bob Navarro introduced Isaac Lopez, 9, ambassador for the United Cerebral Palsy Assn. of Orange County.

"He wants to be a police officer, " Navarro told 500 guests. "And he's the reason we're here."

The two-day celebration, which attracted nearly 4,000 runners, brought in an estimated $40,000 for the United Cerebral Palsy Assn.'s infant center, according to Doreen Pirro, coordinator of development for UCP.

In the sunny, rooftop setting above the hotel's garage, red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, balloons and live music provided an upbeat mood. Runners mingled with corporate sponsors, who, general race chairman Barry Roberson said, "are so important. Their contributions make it possible for the runners' money to go directly to the (needs of) children."

Roberson organized and competed in last year's run. For this year's benefit, he had worked since August on what he called "a labor of love."

"Cerebral palsy is a condition for which there is no cure," Roberson said. "But with guidance and training, potentials can be reached and lives lived to the fullest."

Roberson introduced former Olympic gold medalist Bob Seagren, honorary chairman of the run, as an active volunteer "who's made many trips down here." Seagren, who participated in Saturday afternoon's celebrity competition, said the event so impressed him last year that he decided to do it again.

Lining up for pasta, Dick Tillmar, who headed the corporate team participation, counted 66 teams, more than double the number of last year. Teams ranged from financial institutions to two platoons of Marines.

Corporations contributed $250 for each team of five, while individual runners paid $15 to participate.

Tillmar's wife, Mary, a volunteer for UCP, pointed out table invitations inviting guests to "become a Friend of UCP."

"I'm starting an auxiliary," she said.

Ellie and Bob Carlisle caught up with the party after Ellie finished overseeing race registrations--a volunteer job she has handled all three years of the event. "I always know it's worth it," on the day of the event, she said, despite all the work. "Tears come to my eyes when I see the runners take off."

Runners who served themselves at the long tables, decorated with ice sculptures, included Orange County residents Robyn Root, who placed second Sunday, and Joey Gomez, who won the race in 1985. Gomez described the competition this year as a "really good field. Every year it's better and better."

Jon Koningh, a Newport Beach chiropractor who took third place last year and seventh this year, said he was "amazed at how quickly this race has grown. It has such good organization and sponsorship."

What does Koningh like to eat before a race? "Something light--not a lot of heavy protein."

The "something light" on the buffet included three pastas, salads, fresh vegetables and rice. At the end of the table, cheesecake, eclairs and fruit tarts tempted. Was this fitness food? It disappeared as quickly as servers could set it out.

Nita Waited, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County Inc., said the race has grown "three times larger than last year." Moreover, it is an opportunity, she said, "to introduce more people to United Cerebral Palsy and the program for disabled babies from birth to age 3."

The Orange County bilingual infant program, which will move soon into a new home adjacent to the present center, will serve more than 100 families per week.

The program is for all disabled children and their families, with or without a firm diagnosis of cerebral palsy. It includes therapy, developmental evaluations, feeding programs and home visits.

Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by damage to that part of the brain controlling motor function. It is the most widespread lifetime physical disability in the nation. Each year approximately 10,000 infants--three out of every thousand--are born with cerebral palsy.

Waite said many parents go through a period of mourning when they find out that their children are disabled, and she described the new center as "homey, warm--just what we need to make the parents comfortable."

Mel Jaffee, who heads the infant center's capital campaign, fired the starting gun for Sunday's race. The winner was Vince Draddy with a time of 22.53 minutes, followed by Rich Brownsburger in second place and Jeff Smith in third.

First woman to finish was Sylvia Mosqueda, with a time of 25.47 minutes. Robyn Root was second; Jeannie Lasee Johnson came in third.

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