There's still no cure for the hepatitis C that took Tim Harmon's life in 1999. But the hope is that funds raised by a 5K event in his honor will help toward that goal and will educate the public about this disease.
"We do it to remember Tim and also to raise awareness of what hepatitis C is," said race director Tom Cook of Chantilly's Armfield Farms community. "We bill it as the 'Race against Hepatitis' and put literature about it in the race packet."
This year's 5K run/walk is the fourth annual and will be held Saturday, June 21, at 8:30 a.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. Registration is $17 by June 6 and $20 afterward. Participants may register on race day from 7-8:15 a.m. or at www.racepacket.com. There are three divisions: Runners/walkers, Fairfax County employees and baby joggers.
When Harmon died at age 51, he'd worked 20 years for Fairfax County. He was the county's Director of Residential Services for Alcohol and Drug Services and was a leading proponent for substance-abuse treatment.
Because of his hard work, seven new residential treatment programs were opened. He also helped expand those at A New Beginning and Fairfax Detox in Chantilly, New Generations in Vienna, plus Crossroads and Sunrise House.
"He really loved people and he loved life, and he had a passion for the people who he felt weren't going to get as even a break from society," said his widow Becky of Sterling. "He was an advocate for them."
Agreeing, Cook said Harmon was always trying to make the world a better place. And he worked tirelessly to create treatment opportunities for people with substance-abuse problems so they could rebuild their lives.
Harmon hired Cook in 1984 as a county substance-abuse counselor, and the two became good friends. Unfortunately, though, Harmon contracted hepatitis C — the only form of hepatitis that has no vaccine. When he died, he was on the list for a liver transplant.
"It's a virus that can stay in your system for years and years and you don't know about it because you feel fine," said Cook. "Tim found out about his during a routine blood test."
And in typical fashion for Harmon, he used his own illness as a catalyst to help and teach others about this quiet killer. "When he found out that he was positive for hepatitis C — and learned more about the illness and that it could be a time bomb within people — he was instrumental in getting testing for drug and alcohol clients and staff members," said Becky Harmon. "He did all he could to educate others about it, and he encouraged people to be in support groups and to get help and services."
Proceeds from the 5K race go to charities including the Hepatitis Foundation, the American Liver Foundation and several local substance-abuse centers. Funds also go toward an annual scholarship for an aspiring substance-abuse counselor.
Last year's event drew 600 participants and raised nearly $10,000. Cook hopes both figures will increase, this year. "We get a lot of people from Centreville, Springfield, Leesburg, Burke and Alexandria in the race," he said. "We get really serious runners, people who knew Tim and people who have someone in their family with hepatitis C."
Awards are given to the top three overall male and female finishers in each division, and age-group prizes will also be awarded. More than 130 trophies/medals will be given, and prizes such as merchandise and restaurant meals — donated by local merchants — will be randomly awarded. And registered participants will receive commemorative T-shirts.
The certified 5K course is mostly flat and fast. It begins and ends in front of the Government Center and goes out to West Ox Road and Monument Drive. A live, classic-rock band, The Sock Monkeys, will entertain before, during and after the race.
Also slated is a silent auction for sports memorabilia, including a jersey and footballs signed by Washington Redskins. There are Baltimore Orioles photos, as well as a football signed by football Hall of Famer Bob Griese and son Brian, a star quarterback with the Denver Broncos. Other highlights include a basketball autographed by University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and a football autographed by Terrapin football coach Ralph Friedgen.
At the time of Harmon's death, he and Becky were married 22 years. Their daughters, Cara and Rachael, are now 21 and 16, respectively. "There are still tough moments," said Becky. "Because he was such a strong personality and a special person, it left a void. And we always miss him."
As for the race in her late husband's honor, she said, "I think it's absolutely wonderful," and she praised Cook and his wife for all their efforts. "Tom and Peggy took this on and have been so dedicated to making this a success," she said. "I know Tim would be pleased and would be both proud and humbled by what they're doing and by the response."
An estimated 4 million Americans are currently infected with the hepatitis C virus; some 85 percent of those who contract it remain infected for life, and an estimated 15,000 die each year. The annual death toll is expected to triple by 2010. It can be contracted through sexual relations with someone infected, by sharing dirty drug needles and via blood transfusions. For more information about this disease, call 1-800-891-0707 or visit www.hepfi.org.