Cathleen Smith enjoyed her son’s engagement party last summer, but did not like the photos of herself at the event.

“I knew I had to do something,” she said. “I needed something to push me toward a healthier lifestyle.”

Around the same time, Smith learned that her employer, COPT, a real estate investment trust company, was putting together teams for Howard Community College’s (HCC) 5K Challenge Race, a wellness and team-building event that raises funds for student scholarships.
Smith, who had never run a race before, eagerly joined in.

On Oct. 14, she and her co-workers will return for the fifth annual race, where they’ll be joined by more than 500 employees from 50 area businesses. They’ll not only run, but complete a number of challenges on their way to the finish line and celebration village.

The HCC 5K Challenge Race differs from other races as it specifically targets businesses, with sponsorships ranging from $750 to $5,000. All employees of sponsoring companies have an opportunity to partake in bi-weekly group training runs and educate themselves on topics that improve participants’ health and wellness. Race participants also receive a 90-day Columbia Association (CA) family membership as an added benefit.

The Howard Community College Educational Foundation (HCCEF), which organizes the race and works in partnership with CA, announced that, for the first time Havtech will be the presenting sponsor.

Lifestyle Changes

Smith will participate in one of three teams at COPT and is excited for training to begin in August. She lost 30 pounds since training for last year’s event and has remained committed to her fitness rituals since. She continues to walk and run, and competes in no less than five FitBit challenges weekly. She cut out sugary drinks and changed her eating habits — “At least Monday through Friday,” she said with a laugh.

“I stuck with it and never looked back,” she said. “I saw the same in many of my co-workers, as well. Just a real positive experience. We were all part of a team, and it was nice to do something like this, motivate each other, outside of the office.

“I’m much [healthier] today because of it,” said Smith. “It was a first step in losing the weight and getting healthy. I’ll continue to do this as long as I can.”

The majority of the COPT team members, like Smith, were not runners when they signed up, said Elisa Wolf, principal analyst at COPT.

“Couch to 5K was huge for them,” Wolf said. “In promoting the race, we say you don’t have to be a runner. Show up and cross the finish line. It’s not you on your own; you’ve got a whole group supporting you. Many of those people want to do the race again this year.”

Coming Around Again

Suzanne Parrish, lease and billing administrator at COPT, ran her first HCC 5K last year. She said many of her co-workers kept up their healthy lifestyle, but admits she has slipped.

“I lost 12 pounds,” she said. “I felt more energized.” But she lost her motivation during the winter holidays and is excited to start training again, and this time, keep it up.

“I just felt really good while training for this race,” Parrish said. “I don’t like to sweat, but I got used to it. The Columbia Association Trainers are excellent. They’re really into it.”

Aside from the camaraderie and health benefits, Wolf says COPT likes its employees to support HCC.

“It’s important to support what’s in your backyard ­ [and] develop a higher educated workforce for Howard County,” she said.

In its first four years, the race has raised just more than $300,000. The HCC Educational Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports HCC and its students, expects to raise an additional $100,000 for student scholarships through this year’s Challenge Race. The scholarships, made possible by sponsoring businesses, greatly impact the lives of HCC students.

Everyone Wins

“It’s a win-win for all involved,” said Matt D’Amico, chair of the HCC 5K Challenge Race Committee, HCCEF board member and senior principal at Design Collective.

“Employees build relationships with each other and have the opportunity to network with other sponsors, all while exercising and learning about wellness and a healthy lifestyle,” said D’Amico.

“Companies have a healthier, happier and more productive workforce. HCC students have more scholarship dollars available to help them complete their educational goals.

“That’s the biggest win of all,” he said.

For more information about the race, visit or contact the college’s development office at 443-518-1970.