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Tim Harmon 5K Event is June 18

Tim Harmon was just 51 when he died in 1999 as a result of hepatitis C. But he lives on in the memories of those who knew him, as well as through the legacy he left in substance-abuse treatment.

He's also honored via a race in his name, and this year's Sixth Annual Tim Harmon Memorial 5K Run/Walk is Saturday, June 18. It's at 8:30 a.m., rain or shine, at the Fairfax County Government Center. Cost is $20, and participants may register at www.racepacket.com. or on race day from 7-8:15 a.m.

"WE DO IT to raise awareness of hepatitis C and to remember a friend, a colleague and a boss," said race director Tom Cook of Chantilly's Armfield Farms community. "He hired me in 1984 for Fairfax County's Alcohol and Drug Services. I'm now the assistant director of the Sunrise II program — a group home for teen-agers and, in the early '90s, Tim founded that program."

A Sterling resident, Harmon worked 20 years for Fairfax County and was the Director of Residential Services for Alcohol and Drug Services.

Because of his efforts, 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.

But hepatitis C — which he'd contracted years earlier, but didn't realize — took his life. So it's hoped that money raised by the 5K will help find a cure and the literature in the race packets will educate people about this silent killer.

Proceeds from the Tim Harmon 5K go to charities including the Hepatitis Foundation, the American Liver Foundation and local drug-treatment centers, including Sunrise in Fair Oaks. Last year's event drew 600 participants and raised nearly $11,000.

"We've already got a couple hundred people registered, and we expect the numbers to come up before the race," said Cook. "We also typically get 100-150 people registering on the Web."

The 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. There are three divisions: Runners/walkers, Fairfax County employees and baby joggers. For more information, call 703-934-8756 or e-mail peggy.cook@fairfaxcounty.gov.

A live, classic-rock band, The Sock Monkeys, will entertain before, during and after the race. And post-race refreshments will be available.

"WE AWARD over 100 trophies, plaques and medals," said Cook. "We give away so many awards, it usually takes us 30 minutes to hand them all out." Prizes are given to the top three overall male and female finishers, plus the top three finishers in 14 age groups in five-year increments.

Registered participants will also receive commemorative T-shirts. The white shirts have a blue-and-yellow design with the race name and silhouettes of male and female runners. And prizes from local merchants will be randomly awarded.

A wide variety of gift certificates and coupons are from places including Starbuck's and Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly. The Blue Iguana restaurant in Fair Lakes is donating a $40 brunch for two, and La Cunard in Vienna is offering a $50 gift certificate for dinner. Virginia National Golf Course is contributing free rounds of golf, and Generous George's Pizza in Alexandria is giving free-pizza coupons.

There's also a silent auction for sports memorabilia, including a jersey signed by former Washington Redskins wide receiver Laveranues Coles and a football signed by former 'Skin defensive end Bruce Smith. There are also Baltimore Orioles photos, plus a football signed by football Hall of Famer Bob Griese and son Brian, a star quarterback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When Harmon died, he was the director of all Fairfax County residential-treatment programs. Cook's wife Peggy now holds that post. His disease was discovered through a routine blood test but, unfortunately, there's no vaccine for hepatitis C.

AND, SAID PEGGY COOK, "Because there are no symptoms, people really aren't aware they have it until they go to the doctor and are diagnosed." They might have jaundice, nausea and abdominal and joint pain, but these problems could be caused by many other things.

So by the time they're diagnosed with hepatitis C, she said, "They find out they've had it for possibly 20 years — and that's exactly what happened to Tim. And by then, it's already damaged their liver. As people who were infected in the '60s, '70s and '80s begin to be diagnosed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta expects the hep. C infection rate to triple over the next decade."

Peggy Cook said more people in the U.S. have hepatitis C than have HIV, and that some 4 million are suspected of having it but not yet being diagnosed. (For more information, call 1-800-891-0707 or visit www.hepfi.org). She said about 20 percent of those with the disease can eliminate the virus — at least, temporarily — with medication.

"But there are different strains of hep. C and the medication only works on a small number of people. So people who shared needles should have themselves tested — the earlier, the better." Fittingly, race day, June 18, is also National Hepatitis Awareness Day.

HARMON USED his own illness to help and teach others. He urged drug-and-alcohol clients and staff members to get tested, and he encouraged people to join support groups and get help and services.

"He was a wonderful man," said Peggy Cook. "He probably expanded treatment 200 percent for Fairfax County residents. He added more beds, opened treatment centers, went after grants and funding and put programs in place. Largely because of him, Fairfax County has one of the best comprehensive continuums of services for substance-abuse treatment in the country."

Harmon's wife of 22 years, Becky, is a mental-health therapist in Sterling, daughter Cara, 23, is studying criminal justice at NOVA Loudoun, and daughter Rachael, 18, will graduate in June from Park View High.

Becky's sister, Janet Stevens, is coming from California to participate in the 5K, as will friend Sheila Dunbar of West Virginia. "I think it's wonderful that Tom and Peggy and all the volunteers continue to have this commitment," said Becky. "It's awe-inspiring that they do, and our family appreciates it."