Juana Run race could cross finish line

Leader of school fundraising event to step down after nearly two decades

The 18-year run of a popular Palo Alto foot race that raised money for local schools could come to an end in February if its founder can't find someone to fill her racing shoes.

Karen Saxena, a longtime Palo Alto parent who started the Juana Run in 1997, is retiring as race coordinator, she confirmed Wednesday. The final race she'll organize will be on Feb. 22.

Saxena's departure leaves the race's future in limbo. The volunteers are fewer now, and her youngest daughter is graduating from Gunn High School this coming May. Saxena has grown weary of the hours of phone calls and emails to organize volunteers, she said.

There could be hope for future runs, however, if the right person or persons take over. Saxena has received emails from two interested people. One is affiliated with the schools; the other might want to expand Juana Run as a broader venture, she said.

Juana Run has offered something for everyone: a competitive 8K race on a USA Track and Field-certified course; races for elementary school students; and a 1-mile family race.

"It's a good way to raise money if you get involved in a volunteer activity and do something you like doing," she said.

Saxena had volunteered at school carnivals and other events, but in the late '90s, she sought something more.

"I wanted to do something I could own," she said.

She and her husband, podiatrist Amol Saxena, are avid runners and had enjoyed a similar Los Altos family-oriented race called "Willy's Road Race," which benefited St. Williams' School, they said in a 1997 interview with the Weekly. They launched the Juana Run when the Juana Briones Elementary School PTA was looking for a fundraiser.

The Juana Run attracts about 1,000 people each year, she said. At first, it benefited the elementary school. Proceeds were later split between Juana Briones and Barron Park elementary schools. More schools, including Terman Middle School and Gunn High School, have benefited in recent years. Student runners who register garner $5 apiece for their schools if they promote the run on campus, she said.

In the past four or five years, Juana Run has given a percentage to groups that help at the event. The Gunn girls basketball team took care of the burger booth last year, and environmentally oriented "green teams" sorted the trash into recyclables.

For several years, the Juana Run was part of the Palo Alto Grand Prix, a series of road races that consists of the Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk, Marsh Madness, Stanford Habitat for Humanity Home Run, Pacific THERx 5K4Play and the Agile Running of the Bulls. The races, which take place throughout the year, benefit medical, educational, sports and youth wellness programs and local nonprofit groups.

Saxena said the race has changed over the years, evolving from a simple run to an event that includes a pancake breakfast, raffle, lunch and prizes.

Barron Park Principal Magdalena Fittoria said Juana Run benefits the schools through community building, fitness and income.

"This one event brings both (school) populations together. It's a unifying event for two elementary schools in this area," she said.

Losing Juana Run means losing funding for some after-school programs. Income from the Juana Run are given to the PTAs, which provide grants for noontime activities and after-school programs such as computer clubs and taekwondo.

Enriching campus activities contribute to how students feel, she added.

"We are wondering what is going to happen," Fittoria said.

Juana Briones Principal Lisa Hickey credits the run with getting her back into the sport after a 10-year hiatus.

"It's a great little neighborhood run. Last year I did the Juana Run, and I did a half-marathon last month. Now I'm going to run a full marathon. I feel like the Juana Run inspired me," she said.

With her free time, Saxena might do more part-time work, she said. And although her kids are nearly all grown, she continues to coach after-school sports for Palo Alto's middle schools.

Saxena and her husband can't do all the running they want to do anymore, she said. But if Juana Run survives, she just might be one of the first at the starting line.

"I always love race day," she said.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2013 at 10:32 am

It would a real loss if we lost this neighborhood institution. Karen Saxena is a gem, having created this event from scratch and carried it on her back so many years. We can only hope that other step up to keep it going.

Like this comment
Posted by JM
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 7, 2013 at 10:48 am

I have been running at the Juana Run for several years now and I love it! You don't see a lot of neighborhood sports events having this kind appeal.

It's especially amazing to see all these little ones I know going from 1/4 mile "play run" to beat me at 8K, all in these several short years.

I haven't found another sports which could touch me this way yet.

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2013 at 11:18 am

As the former Race Director of the Palo Alto Moonlight Run and partipant of the PA Grand Prix series, I want to thank Karen for years of effort and commitment to the Palo Alto community. She was great to work with during my 14 year stint - I wanted to take the opportunity to thank her and asknowledge her efforts. Hopefully, someone will take the lead of Juana Run - there is nothing like a run, walk event to bring families and community together.

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Posted by Becky Thomas
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2013 at 11:53 am

Karen has done an amazing job and has raised ~$200,000 for our schools. What an amazing thing for a parent to do! If you see her, please thank her! Karen will be missed and the Juana Run won't be the same without her.

Like this comment
Posted by Spud
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I'm very sad that this race may be coming to an end. It's my most favorite local run, seeing the families together, and with a nice, small community feel to it.

Kudos to Karen for doing such a wonderful job, and for such a long time. I hope someone will be able to pick up the torch and carry it on for the schools and the community.

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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

Thank you Karen Saxena for your years of volunteering! I hope you serve as an inspiration to current parents of younger children - volunteers are a source of much of what makes our schools and City a wonderful place to live! Not only do these events raise money, but they are also wonderful community builders!

Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 10, 2013 at 2:57 am

The Juana Run is a staple of my childhood. I have a t shirt from nearly every year. Even running it a few times after I returned from college always brought me great joy. It is a wonderful community event and I sincerely hope it will be able to continue in some form!

Another thanks to the Saxenas for their dedication to this great event!

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Posted by Peek Cup
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I used to run this race frequently, until a severe injury necessitated a knee replacement. I have actually considered walking this race sedately with hiking poles, if they would let me. It was that much fun, and very much a Palo Alto happening.

I do sincerely hope that a way can be found to carry on the tradition.

Like this comment
Posted by Pick it up
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I haven't run this race in over six years, but I do hope it continues for at least six more. It's a unique race so I hope the Juana Briones PTA picks it up and keeps it going. The principal can lead this, especially now that she's been inspired by the race. Or maybe Barron Park and its principal can pick up the leadership of this race. Work together and you can do a lot for Palo Alto kids.

Like this comment
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 18, 2014 at 9:27 pm

We will miss Karen as an amazing organizer. Let's keep the race alive. Show your support to Karen for this year's run which will be next month. Like the Juana Runs Facebook page and let's get moving. Web Link.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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