Runners, walkers celebrate religious freedom

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COLUMBIA - Faith, freedom, and pancakes came together for the 23rd annual Parley P. Pratt Freedom Run at Twin Lakes Recreation Center this morning.

The event is free, and is sponsored by Columbia congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Participants choose between a 4-mile or 1-mile run/walk, and everyone at the event got a free pancake breakfast.

Registration began at 6:45 a.m. and ended at around 7:30 a.m. At the end of the race, the fastest runners were honored during the traditional "Watermelon Awards," which awards competitors with decorated watermelons instead of trophies.

The event is inspired by Parley P. Pratt, an apostle of the Latter-day Saints movement from the 1800s. Pratt was arrested for his religious beliefs in Jackson County and held captive in Boone County. On July 4th, 1839, Pratt and two fellow inmates escaped. Event volunteer Ryan Jenkins told Pratt's story during the opening ceremony.

"Just as Columbia residents were getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July and their liberties, they (Pratt and inmates) made a run for their liberty," Jenkins said. "It took them about eight to ten days to go about 100-120 miles to the Illinois border and cross the Mississippi River to get their freedom."

Participants like Dwain Roberts said that Pratt's story is inspiring. He drove from his home in Jefferson City to take part in the holiday event.

"It's great to celebrate our freedoms and remember long ago, maybe sometimes our freedoms weren't respected," Roberts said.

One of the event's committee members, Karina Kitchen Crookston, said the run was a success with over 500 people participating. Her father has been participating in the run since it began. Crookston also designed a unique t-shirt that was sold on-site. Coordinators printed 183 shirts and sold all of them. Kitchen Crookston said these are signs that the event's future is bright.

"As far as we can tell, it's going to keep going," Kitchen Crookston said. "We may have to move to a bigger place because we've kind of reached our limit here at the pavilion at Twin Lakes."

Even if the freedom run were to change locations, Jenkins said the goal of the event will stay the same. He said that while volunteers work hard to provide a fun environment, the event's primary goal is to spread awareness for religious freedom.

"The backbone or crux of the event is really freedom of religion - the idea that religion matters and faith counts," Jenkins said. "We want that message to resonate."

Find out more about the Parley P. Pratt Freedom Run on their Facebook page.