Participants in a previous Sea of Blue Autism Awareness Walk and 5K make their way towards the finish line. In its third year, the 2016 event will take place Saturday, April 30, in Northeast Harbor. FILE PHOTO

NEH 5K boosts autism awareness

MOUNT DESERT — The third Sea of Blue Autism Awareness Walk and 5K is set for at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 30, in Northeast Harbor.

The annual event began when Christopher Heel, as part of a Senior Exhibition project at Mount Desert Island High School, decided to organize an autism awareness walk, which drew more than 150 people. Heel, who has autism, and his parents, Susan and Matt, sought to spread awareness about autism in his hometown.

Last year’s event, at which 115 people turned out, raised a total of $6,000 to help fund the Autism Society of Maine’s programs, which support Maine families.

“He is an avid runner himself,” race director Matt Heel said of his son, who signals the race’s start and both walks and runs in the event.

Brendan O’Keefe of Seal Cove won last year’s race with his time of 17:27 and was closely followed by Tony Daliso of Waterville, who finished a second behind.

The 3.1-mile race and 2-mile walk both start and end at The Neighborhood House and follow a course along the South Shore Road.

“Runners really love the course, and they love the idea that Chris [Heel] is doing this,” Matt added. “He is liked by the community, and it’s great that he spreads the awareness, and that’s why he wants to continue doing it. People really look forward to it.”

This year, the 5K race is part of the 2016 Smile Design Ellsworth and Eden Athletics Point Series. The cost of registration is $12 for walkers and $20 for runners. The first 100 walkers and first 200 runners will receive Autism Awareness T-shirts.

Preregistration is encouraged. Registration forms are available at the Mount Desert Island YMCA, Down East Family YMCA in Ellsworth or online at Information about the event is on a Facebook page called “Sea of Blue.” Sponsors include Darling’s, Reel Pizza, Governor’s Restaurant and Pat’s Pizza.

Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar is a sports reporter for the Mount Desert Islander. She comes from New Delhi, the capital city of India and graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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