Over more than two decades, Chelsea physical education teacher’s passion for running has created community tradition

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 race will take place on Saturday during the school’s Harvest Festival from 2 to 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 Chelsea School’s annual Fun Run.

Peterson, 61, has taught at Chelsea Elementary School for nearly 30 years as a physical education teacher and has also held the roles of bus driver and athletic director.

He started the Chelsea School Fun Run more than two decades ago to share his passion for running with students and to encourage them to develop a healthy mindset around physical activity – that running can be fun.

“It’s very rewarding,” Peterson said. “The reward when I see the children’s faces bright and happy and that makes it worth it. 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 Harvest Festival, which will be held at the school.

The Harvest Festival starts from 14:00 to 16:00 and the Fun Run takes place in several hours throughout the day in series. Different groups of students and alumni will be running and, to mark the special occasion, there will also be themed races and a bike race this year. More than 100 people are expected to attend.

The Fun Run has become a community-wide affair, with local businesses lending a hand by sponsoring the event and donating prizes. Every year a bicycle is raffled off. The race is free to participate, but participants are encouraged to make a $5 donation. The money raised will go to a cause of Peterson and her students’ choosing: this year, the funds will go to the Chelsea Food Pantry.

Although this is the 25th iteration of the event, Peterson said she is not sure of the exact year of the first run because there were a couple of years when the Fun Run did not take place. But those off years did not include 2020 and 2021, when many other holidays 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 have the opportunity to practice before the Community Fun Run on Saturday, for example.

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

Peterson has enjoyed running all his life and calls the activity “his passion.”

She grew up on a farm in Saco and remembers being a girl who ran around the paths and meadows 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 moving on to the clue. Peterson worked for a year in New Hampshire before the couple settled in central Maine and had two children. He has worked at Chelsea Elementary School ever since, instilling his love of running in the students.

“I like to start (running) young to see if they develop a love for it,” he said. “I play music inside and they love running to music. I’m the type of teacher that if I do, 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 to have participated.

Jennifer Brown, a teacher at Chelsea Elementary School with Peterson, said the Fun Run is a “big deal” for Chelsea students. They also have the opportunity to design the t-shirts for the event.

In art class, students receive an outline of the year’s design, which is usually a sneaker, and they can paint and design it however they want. The designs are then voted on and the winner wears their sneaker on the shirts. This year, they’ve gone with a “25” to celebrate the years the event has been running and put the sneakers within the 25.

When asked if he will participate in the event, Peterson said he has to count the number of laps the students make, but plans to “jump” into the race with alumni and a relay with his son and three grandchildren .

Although the event is held at Chelsea Elementary School, it is open to the community and other regional schools in School Unit 12: Palermo Consolidated School, Somerville Elementary School, Whitefield Elementary School and Windsor Elementary School.

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