On a sleepy Sunday morning, about 200 runners embarked from the base of the Santa Ana Police Department station on Boyd Way for a light 5-kilometer run/walk through the neighborhood in the second SAPD “31 for 31 Run/Walk”.
A kickoff to the holiday season, the run is staged to raise funds for toys for local children in need and featured about 150 police department officers, employees, families and supporters. They were joined by the department’s Police Athletics and Activities League Santa Ana Winds running club, and, this year for the first time, 44 members from the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Academy, Class 252.
The 5K run began at the steps of the Santa Ana Police Department and continued to Jack Fisher Park in the Floral Park neighborhood before doubling back to police headquarters.
“This is now in its second year,” said Police Chief David Valentin. “We hope it will be an annual grassroots initiative to empower and support the community.”
To participate in the event, employees contributed $31 in honor of Station 31, the number of the department headquarters. Last year, the event raised more than $8,200, all of which went to children’s toy drives and children’s activities.
“Every year, we come together to support the most vulnerable people and families in our community,” said Valentin, whose Community First initiative has focused on community involvement alongside crime fighting. “This is what it’s all about. When we’re able to bring a little joy, that’s something special.”
Valentin said for a number of years the department has gathered toys and blankets for the community. He came up with the idea of the run to further that goal and help kick off the holiday season. The run/walk is a noncompetitive, untimed event geared at togetherness, family and engagement.
Valentin said he hopes the run will grow each year to include more department members and their families. And a number of officers added to their coteries this year. Among the families on hand were the Esquerra’s: K-9 Officer Zach Esquerra, who attended as a solo last year, arrived with his wife, and their three children, aged 6, 4, and 2.
“I decided it’s a nice day to enjoy with the family and support the community,” he said. Although he hoped the kids could participate in the walking, he brought an oversized stroller as backup.
Commander Gil Hernandez also brought along his family.
“Last year my son and I did this,” he said. “This year, we got the girls involved.”
Esquerra decided not to bring his K-9 partner, who he said might be a little overstimulated by the goings-on. A number of other participants did bring along their dogs.
And then there was Cpl. Elizabeth Granados, who brought along a miniature pony named Reagan.
“We’ll see how this works,” she said, while affixing a “Station 31” sign on the 4-foot-tall pony.
Joining the festivities and acting as showstoppers were the police recruits from the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy in Tustin, three of whom are earmarked for Santa Ana when they graduate.
They were joined by Nathan Erskine, 30, a Special Olympian who has been attached to the class. He said he came along to support the recruits. He was accompanied by his parents and police recruit, Justin Alvarez, from Class 252.
In groups of two, the recruits marched to the start line and when the start of the race was signaled at 8:30 a.m., they took off double-time, counting out steps and chanting in unison. Twenty-eight minutes later, with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” pumping through the sound system, still in unison and chanting — but now accompanied by several runners — the recruits completed the 3.1-mile circuit. Soon after, in formation, they pumped out a set of 25 pushups to complete the morning workout.
Also hitting the finish line in a group were the members of the Santa Ana Winds. Ranging in age from 7 to 15 years old, the Winds were completing their second 5K run in two days, after participating in the Pumpkin Run in Fullerton a day earlier. Anthony Pacheco, a Child Abuse Detective with SAPD, is the team’s head running coach.
“They learn about teamwork and solving problems together. We’re only as fast as the weakest runner,” he said of the running club.