By Judy Wakefield and Sonya Vartabedian
---- — Nina Caron saw the good in slain Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer of Andover from a young age.
Caron’s oldest daughter was one of Ritzer’s closest friends growing up and, like many, she and her family were rocked by the young teacher’s death.
Determined to find a way to make sure Ritzer’s legacy is remembered, Caron is putting to use what she knows best.
The competitive runner from North Andover is leading the organization of the inaugural Step Up For Colleen Ritzer 5K walk and run through Andover.
Set for May 4, the event will benefit the Colleen E. Ritzer Scholarship Fund. It takes place nine days before what would have been Ritzer’s 25th birthday.
“I needed to do something, I really want to do something positive, something to keep alive the memory of Colleen’s life and what she stood for and bring the communities together,” Caron said.
While Ritzer’s parents have been maintaining a low profile since their daughter’s death in October, Caron said they gave their approval to the memorial race last week.
“Colleen was such a giving person, she cared so much about other people,” Caron said. “We need more of that in the world. There’s too much of the `every man for himself.’ I really hope to inspire people being connected to other people and in connection to others.”
Caron is expecting a sizable turnout for the race. In a matter of just a few days, word has spread quickly throughout Andover, Danvers and the surrounding communities. The event has received more than 700 likes on Facebook in less than three days and lots of early registrations. Groups are also looking to form teams to participate as a unit in a tribute to Ritzer.
“I think it’s going to be hugely successful,” Caron said, adding the event is designed for everyone to participate since it includes both a walk and run component.
“It’s a great way for all the communities to hold together to commemorate what a great person she was.”
The 5K race, which gets under way at 9 a.m., will start and end at the Park, located downtown at Chestnut and Bartlet streets. The course primarily travels through the southern part of Andover, with a portion winding through parts of the bird sanctuary at Phillips Academy.
Greater Boston Running Company in downtown Andover is helping to organize the race and will be the pickup location for race packets in advance.
Caron is also consulting with Bill Pennington, who organizes the annual Run For The Troops in Andover and was the force behind the launch of the Feaster Five in town.
Prizes will be awarded to the top male and female finishers in the following categories: Under 12, 13 to 19, 20 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69 and 70-plus. The race will be chip timed by North Shore Timing Company using the MyLaps bib tag system
The registration fee for both the run and walk is $25 in advance, $30 on race day. T-shirts are guaranteed to all runners who register by April 21. Race-day registration will take place at the nearby Doherty Middle School gym on Bartlet Street.
To register, visit www.northshoretimingonline.com/reglivecb.aspx?eventyear_id=146 or check out the event Facebook page at www.facebook.com/StepUpforColleenRitzer.