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7,000 Rutgers students and alumni participated in this year's Big Chill 5K

More than 7,000 students, alumni, faculty and guests laced their running shoes early Saturday morning for “The Big Chill” 5-kilometer. The yearly fundraising effort, hosted by the University, collects toys for children ages 3 to 14. – Photo by Casey Ambrosio

Last Saturday, more than 7,000 Rutgers students, alumni, faculty and guests gathered on the College Avenue campus to take part in the annual "The Big Chill" 5-kilometer.

"The Big Chill" is a philanthropic event where participants can run, walk or otherwise travel a specific 3.1 mile course laid out on the College Avenue campus. Runners traveled southeast down College Avenue, turning to take George Street to a scenic path through Buccleuch Park, and then finally taking down Sicard Street back to College Avenue. 

The event fundraises and collects toys for children ages 3 to 14. Participants must bring a new toy valued at $15 or more or a $15 contribution to enter. The toys collected are then wrapped by a group of student volunteers the following Monday and are sent to various organizations, such as the Salvation Army of Bound Brook and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, according to the Rutgers Recreation website.

University Chancellor Debasish Dutta, who ran alongside participants on the cold Saturday morning, said the purpose of the "The Big Chill" is to show the big heart of Rutgers and its students and to give back to the children of the local community. More than 80,000 toys have been donated since the event began back in 2002, and Rutgers will continue to grow that number in the years to come, he said.

The clock started just after 10 a.m. as thousands of racers, some in costumes, poured down College Avenue. Participants could pay $5 to have their run timed and many students came in groups with friends or teammates. In the course of 1.5 hours, between 7,000 and 8,000 people crossed the finish line.

Among the runners in this year’s "The Big Chill" was Governor-elect Phil Murphy. After a few quick remarks during the opening ceremony, Murphy shook hands, took selfies and got right in line with all the other participants.

“My wife and kids and I always thought it was a cool concept that your price of admission is bringing toys for kids who otherwise wouldn't get them which is pretty cool,” Murphy said after the race. “Kids will get toys they otherwise wouldn't have, we'll all do something healthy, we’ll do it as a community and we’ll do it at an iconic institution of higher education.”

As with many Rutgers events, this year’s "The Big Chill" relied on student volunteers to operate refreshments stands, hand out snacks and line the course, take pictures and cheer on runners.

Suraiea Hussain, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, both volunteered and ran in this year's 5-kilometer. She said that she had always heard great things about the "The Big Chill" but always missed out on it. This year she set time aside and made sure she got involved, since the event gives back to the community.

“I just might (come back next year). Just because I’m a senior doesn’t mean I’ll forget my college. I’m going to be an alum, I have a lot of Rutgers pride and I'll definitely be coming back,” she said.

Jada Little, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she came to this year's 5-kilometer to bond with friends and get active. For her, the "The Big Chill" is a great Saturday workout where she can have fun and give back to her community

Stacy Trukowski, the co-director of Rutgers Recreation, said staying active and exercising can help students relieve stress and anxiety. 

She said Rutgers Recreation seeks to educate students on the benefits of exercise and to provide opportunities to do so, which is well characterized by the organization’s “Do What Moves You” slogan.

“Our students right now are stressed. They’re entering exams, they have a lot going on and any opportunity for them to come and be with each other and move together and move a little bit, helps relieve stress,” Trukowski said.

This year's 5-kilometer plays into Rutgers Recreation’s new initiative called “Exercise is Medicine on Campus,” where a more active lifestyle is being promoted and is helping students get more focused, healthier and less stressed. Trukowski said this joint effort between Recreation and the Department of Kinesiology and Health aims to provide students with the opportunities and desire to get in at least 115 minutes of exercise per week.

“Health, that is physical and mental health, is critical to student success. So whatever we can do to keep ourselves fit, physically and mentally, contributes to the success of our students," Dutta said. “That gives every reason for students, faculty, staff and community members to be a part of this.”

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