BIG RAPIDS — Fitness, festivities and fundraising were at the center of Saturday’s first-ever Wheatlake Festival of Races.

The event raised awareness and money for the Susan P. Wheatlake Women’s Cancer and Wellness Fund.

“These funds raised today help with services, education and programs to help both patients and families,” Susan Wheatlake explained. “We are trying to help them emotionally, physically and even spiritually on what is a long, hard journey.”

The wellness fund has been able to bring in masseuses for patients, as well as provide auricular acupuncture services, which help with chemotherapy and radiation side effects, Wheatlake explained.

“We are trying to provide anything we can to make this time better and more comfortable for patients and their families,” she added.

Previously known as the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, the newly named event featured a half marathon, 5K Run, Kids Wellness Dash and a walk. Hundreds participated in the day’s activities, which united the Reed City and Big Rapids communities.

The half marathon registration began at the Big Rapids Middle School gym, then runners were bused to the Reed City Depot to begin the race. More than 80 participants followed the White Pine Trail and Riverwalk, ending up at the band shell behind Big Rapids Middle School.

The 5K began in Hemlock Park and also ended behind the middle school. As awards were being handed out for the 5K runners, the first half marathon participant crossed the finish line. The Kids Wellness Dash and walk began later in the morning.

Shawna Miller, of Mecosta, ran in the 5K and previously has participated in the walk. Miller cites Wheatlke as an inspiration to her and her mother, both of whom are cancer survivors.

“As a survivor myself, I want to give all the support I can,” Miller said. “It’s so nice the funds stay local and you see the impact it has in the area.”

The event also included much more than the various races. A silent auction featured numerous items donated from community members and businesses. A package to Great Wolf Lodge, youth bikes and a grill were raffled off, and a booth was set up for free skin cancer screenings.

“It all went fabulously,” Wheatlake said. “Things all came together and worked out perfectly to create a successful event.”