Physical education teacher Linda Peterson holds a sign Wednesday that students made to encourage people participating in the 25th annual Fun Run at Chelsea Elementary School. The fun run will take place Saturday during the school’s Harvest Festival from 2-4 p.m. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

CHELSEA — After 25 years, Linda Peterson still gets excited every time one of her students crosses the finish line at the annual Chelsea school Fun Run.

Peterson, 61, has taught at Chelsea Elementary School for almost 30 years as a physical education teacher and has taken on the roles of bus driver and athletic director, too.

She started the Chelsea School Fun Run over two decades ago to share her passion for running with students and to hopefully encourage them to develop a healthy mindset around the physical activity — that running can be fun.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Peterson. “The reward of when I see the kids faces shine and happy and that makes it worthwhile. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s more of a feeling.”

This Saturday, Peterson and Chelsea Elementary School will celebrate the milestone year during the Parent Teacher Association-sponsored Harvest Festival, which will take place at the school.

The Harvest Festival goes from 2-4 p.m. with the Fun Run taking place at multiple times throughout the day in heats. Different groups of students and alumni will run and, to mark the special occasion, there also will be themed races and a bike race this year. Over 100 people are expected to attend.

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The Fun Run has become a communitywide affair, with local businesses lending a hand by sponsoring the event and donating prizes. Every year, there is a raffle for a bike. It is free to participate in the race, but participants are encouraged to donate $5. The money collected goes to a cause Peterson and her students choose — this year, the funds will go to the Chelsea Food Pantry.

Though this is the 25th iteration of the event, Peterson said she is unsure of the exact year of the first race because there were a couple of years when the Fun Run did not happen. But those off years did not include 2020 and 2021, when many other festivities were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Peterson made some adjustments to allow the activity to continue safely, and some of those changes have become new traditions at the school. Students now get a chance to practice before the community Fun Run on Saturday, for instance.

“Before COVID-19, we always did it on a Friday afternoon, and of course, it’s hard to get all of the kids to come back to school,” she said. “The pandemic forced us to find a new way to do it and we did it during P.E., so (this) week is my fun run and everyone gets a chance to run.”

Peterson has enjoyed running her whole life and calls the activity “her passion.”

She grew up on a farm in Saco and remembers being a young girl running through the trails and grasslands of the farm.

She met her husband, who also worked as a physical education teacher before retiring, in college at the University of Maine in Orono, where she played basketball for a year before switching to the track team. Peterson worked for a year in New Hampshire before the couple settled down in the central Maine area and had two children. She has worked at Chelsea Elementary School ever since, instilling her love for running in the students.

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“I like to start them (running) young to see if they develop a love for it,” she said. “I play music inside and they love to run to music. I’m the type of teacher that if I’m going to do it, I like to lead by example. We try to make it fun.”

And the students have responded well, Peterson said, with most crossing the finish line happy that they participated.

Jennifer Brown, a teacher at Chelsea Elementary with Peterson, said the Fun Run is a “big deal” for the students. They get a chance to design the T-shirts for the event, too.

In art class, the students get an outline of the design for the year, which is usually a sneaker, and they can color and design it how they please. The designs are then voted on and the winner gets their sneaker on the shirts. This year, they went with a “25” to celebrate the number of years the event has taken place and put the sneakers inside the 25.

When asked if she will participate in the event, Peterson said she has to count the number of laps for students but that she plans to “hop in” to the race with the alumni and a relay with her son and three grandchildren.

Though the event is held at the Chelsea Elementary School, it’s open to the community and other Regional School Unit 12 schools — Palermo Consolidated School and Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor elementary schools.


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