Valley’s fire services are beneficiaries of Oso Strong run

July seemed a long way off in the dark days of March. Within a week of the Oso mudslide, Kelsey Garka was organizing a 5K walk and run to benefit volunteer fire departments that worked so steadfastly after the disaster.

“Anything we can do to give back will help,” Garka said March 30, when the Oso Strong 5K Walk/Run was in the earliest planning stages. Since then, Highway 530 has been reopened through the slide zone. On Tuesday, word came that Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge, the last missing victim of the mudslide, had been found.

On Sunday, hundreds of people are to participate in the Oso Strong 5K Walk/Run near the Arlington Airport. Registration will begin at 7 a.m., with the first wave of runners starting at 9 a.m. The course includes portions of the Airport Trail and woodsy trails that connect to it.

Before any runner takes a step, there will be a poignant display of remembrance. At about 8:45 a.m., Garka said, a moment of silence will be observed. That will be followed by the release of 43 doves, one for each person whose life was lost in the March 22 mudslide.

Scheduled to fire the starting gun is U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, a 1st District Democrat who represents the area.

The event is a fund-raiser for the Oso, Darrington and Arlington Heights volunteer fire departments. Cost is $50 for the run or walk, or $10 for an obstacle course for kids ages 3-10.

Garka, an Arlington High School graduate now living in Everett, hopes the 5K will raise $30,000 to $40,000. By midweek, about 900 people had registered, she said, and the first two waves of run starts were sold out. Runners will start every five minutes until 9:15 a.m.

Organizers plan to meet with leaders of the fire agencies once the amount raised is known.

“We want to do whatever they want. There may be more needs in one department,” said Garka, who organized the Oso Strong 5K with her husband, Greg Garka, and several Arlington High School alumni.

People not running or walking will find plenty to do at the site along Highway 531, south of the Arlington Airport. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a DJ will play music, food trucks will serve lunch, and Bob’s Burgers &Brew will run a beer and wine garden. There will be face painting, the kids’ obstacle course, massages, a dunk tank and a raffle.

“Everyone is giving us 100 percent of the proceeds,” said Garka, who with her husband runs Anytime Fitness in Monroe and Snohomish. Andersen Construction is the major sponsor, and two dozen other companies are supporting the event.

Like so many with ties to the Stillaguamish Valley, Garka, 32, knows someone who lost loved ones to the mudslide. More than six years ago, she was a manager at the Polo Ralph Lauren store at Tulalip’s Seattle Premium Outlets. One store employee at the time was Natasha Huestis, the young woman whose 4-month-old daughter, Sanoah, and mother, Christina Jefferds, died in the slide.

Garka and Huestis had lost touch, but have been in contact since the tragedy. Huestis, she said, is registered for the 5K. Anyone who suffered a loss in the slide is welcome to participate without charge, she added.

Garka said 5K organizers have one problem — a good one. So many have registered that T-shirt orders haven’t kept up. Runners and walkers signing up race day will eventually get shirts, but maybe not at the event.

The Oso Strong 5K website calls it “An Event to Remember.” It’s a day to come together for a community that will never forget.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Oso Strong 5K

The Oso Strong 5K Walk/Run, a fund-raiser for the Oso, Darrington and Arlington Heights volunteer fire departments, will be held Sunday near the Arlington Airport. Registration starts at 7 a.m. The first wave of runners starts at 9 a.m., and walkers start about 9:30 a.m. There will be an obstacle course for kids, music, food and a beer garden. Start location is 17200 51st Ave. NE, Arlington. From I-5 N, take Exit 206 and go east 1.25 miles.

Registration is $50 to run or walk, or $10 for the kids’ obstacle course:

Event packets may be picked up from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at KeyBank Smokey Point branch, 17311 Smokey Point Dr., or at the event Sunday.

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