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Zombie Run puts the ‘gore’ in Gorham

 Department of Athletics, USM Gorham Campus

GORHAM, ME — Hockey masks aren’t the kind of gear you would usually expect athletes on the University of Southern Maine track and cross country teams to wear. They weren’t dressed that way for a meet. They were competing, however, to see who could get the most screams.

The undead descended upon Shaw Cherry Hill Farm in Gorham for the fourth annual Zombie Run on Friday, October 13. The event is organized and staffed by the track and cross country teams. Participants sign up to run along the farm’s walking paths while student-athlete jump out of the bushes to scare them.

The zombie theme was modified slightly this year to reflect the date. “Friday the 13th” is also the title of a horror movie franchise. The villain, Jason Voorhees, hides his disfigured face behind a hockey mask. A large number of students copied his look.

Wearing the mask and growling was easy for Albert Matrille, a junior majoring in Criminology. But as a sprinter, toning down his natural speed to mimic Jason’s lumbering gait may have been the tougher assignment.

“For the little kids, I’m not scaring them too much, just cheering them on, as well,” said Matrille.

Back in his own trick-or-treating days, Matrille preferred to dress up as superheroes or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Those characters remained popular costume choices with the kids who came to the Zombie Run. The crowd also included assorted princesses and monsters, among many others.

Help was available for kids who arrived feeling that their costume was still missing something. Volunteers from the USM Student Theatre Artist Group brought their make-up kits to paint faces at a booth next to the registration tent. Their designs ran the gamut of snakes, scars, and simple streaks of color.

The pre-race entertainment also included a constant stream of spooky music and a row of food trucks. The focus turned to running as the sun fell below the horizon. The first heat was reserved for the youngest kids. They ran a half-mile route where the scares were kept to a minimum. Every runner received a bag of treats at the finish line.

The gloves came off for the older kids and adults who ran the second heat. Screams echoed through the woods along their two-mile route. At 10 years old, Landon decided he was old enough to handle the full experience. He wasn’t worried about the flowing black robes of his costume interfering with his running. And he had a warning for any potential “attackers.”

“My plan was to scare the zombies so they don’t scare me,” Landon said.

Landon was in good shape for the race through his involvement with the Gorham Grinders youth running group. It’s overseen by the Town of Gorham Parks and Recreation Department, which also lent its support to the Zombie Run.

Even with outside help, student organizers had no shortage of tasks and responsibilities. Success depends on the same kind of teamwork and perseverance that they developed through sports. They had to squeeze their event planning into schedules that were already jam packed with classwork and athletics. In spite of that, more than 60 students stepped up to donate their time.

“It’s fun to see them out and engaging in the community and interacting and seeing how creative they can be in getting dressed up,” said Rob Whitten, head coach of the cross country and track and field teams for both men and women.

The community shared the students’ excitement. Forty-nine participants pre-registered for the two-mile race and same-day registration added another 63 runners to the total. While the half-mile race didn’t require registration, an informal scan at the starting line counted about 80 kids. Add to that a cheering section of parents and the crowd swelled to more than 200 people.

The registration fees came to more than $600. Any proceeds go into the budget for the track and cross country teams for equipment and team-building activities. This year, most of the revenue went to expenses like portable toilet rentals and costume prizes. The bigger benefit to for students may have been the goodwill they engendered in the community.

“It just shows that not everything is about the competitive side of it,” Matrille said. “It’s also about being together, having a great time, bringing everyone together.”

With the event falling on Friday the 13th, costumes inspired by the namesake movie franchise were especially popular. Photo by Department of Athletics, USM Gorham Campus

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