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5K in memory of North Hills grad raises awareness of heatstroke

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
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The late Michael Czerwien (kneeling) is seen here working with the Waynesburg University football team as an assistant coach. Czerwien, who played football for North Hills Senior High School and Waynesburg, will be remembered during the Sweet Summertime Sprint on Aug. 2 at North Park. Czerwien died of heatstroke in 2010. The 5K raises awareness about the dangers of heatstroke and raises money for the Michael Czerwien Memorial Scholarship Fund.

This year marks the third annual Sweet Summertime Sprint in memory of North Hills graduate Michael Czerwien, and organizers are spreading the word by handing out fliers at local gyms and running routes, along with more spontaneous methods.

“I've been stopping and telling people in my neighborhood when I see them walking their dogs,” said Mike Santucci, 30, of Ross Township, a friend of Czerwien's who helps organize the event. This year's 5K will be at 8 a.m. Aug. 2 at the North Park Boathouse, off of Pearce Mill Road in McCandless.

The Sweet Summertime Sprint run and walk benefits the Waynesburg University scholarship fund named after Czerwien, a 2004 North Hills Senior High School graduate.

Nicknamed “The Polish Tank” Czerwien, who played for Waynesburg, was a two-time Division III All-American football player and the NCAA all-time leader in sacks with 53.5, which the defensive end parlayed into a national recognition when he appeared in Sports Illustrated's “Faces in the Crowd.”

While working at a construction site in Greene County on June 6, 2010, Czerwien suffered heatstroke and died. He was 25.

The inaugural Sweet Summertime Sprint took place in 2012. In addition to raising money for the scholarship fund, the event also promotes hydration and heatstroke awareness.

“We talk about the importance of hydration and when to exercise when it's hot,” said Jamie Czerwien Wood, 34, of Ingomar, Czerwien's sister and the director of the Michael Czerwien Memorial Scholarship Fund. “You should work out early in the morning or late in the evening.”

Disc jockey Matt Donnelly, who attended St. Sebastian School in Ross Township with Czerwien, will provide entertainment. There will be physical therapists on hand afterward to work out any kinks.

The top three male and female finishers will receive a medal and a gift certificate for Dick's Sporting Goods. All participants will receive a water bottle and travel mug for hot or cold drinks.

There also will be an announcement about scholarship recipient Coleman Mazur. The scholarship goes to a North Hills graduate who attends Waynesburg.

Czerwien Wood expects about 200 people, the same as last year, to participate. The cost for each runner is $20 if preregistered or $25 if registering the day of the event.

Czerwien Wood said her goal is to push the number of participants to 300 next year. She said she also hopes to broaden the audience for her message. Part of her larger vision is to have a traveling program.

“Our main goal is student-athletes and to get into the schools and really promote hydration and heatstroke awareness,” Czerwien Wood said.

Until then, she is busy planning the 5K with family and friends. She said about 40 volunteers help with the race.

“When you run something like this, you realize people love to help,” she said.

Ed Phillips is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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