RIDGEWOOD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — For thousands of people, Memorial Day began with a charity walk or running race.

As CBS 2’s Alex Denis reported, one of the biggest events is in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where thousands of people from around the country turned turn out for the 39th Annual Ridgewood Run.

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The runners stepped at 8:15 a.m. for the run through the tree-lined streets of Ridgewood. The events included a 5K and 10K, a mile run and a fun run.

The 5K also included a wheelchair event. David Lowell served with the marines and was anxious to race after being paralyzed in an automobile accident.

“I was a triathlete before I was paralyzed, and so running and cycling and everything was a part of my DNA at the time,” he said. “And so just to be able to get back to a racing environment — being out here with everybody kind of stimulates you.”

Race organizers said it takes about six months to organize the race and gather volunteers.

And Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn emphasized that the run is part of a bigger day honoring those who gave their lives in service to the country.

“The Ridgewood Run has become a very important tradition here in Ridgewood, but it’s the start of a very special day, because after the race is over at 11 o’clock, we have a very special Memorial Day service run by our American Legion. The whole town comes together. It’s a really wonderful event,” Aronsohn said.

Runners on Monday were also remembering Toshiko d’Elia, the founder of the race, who passed away at the age of 84 in February.

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“Toshi was one of the pioneers of running, and she didn’t have a race to run against. So my father started a race for her,” said d’Elia’s daughter, Erica Dietsel.

The race started out with 20 people in 1976, and now has thousands from around the world, Dietsel said.

“To run like Toshi means to run with your spirit and to run the best you can. It’s not about your time. It’s about having a good time,” she said.

And even though they all came out to compete, even the smallest of runners understood what Memorial Day is all about.”

“It’s like a pretty important holiday, but not a lot of people think about it as that,” one girl said. “So it’s kind of nice to have something in Ridgewood that is big, and kind of like, celebrates that.”

The top three finishers in the one-mile, 5K and 10K races won prize money. The top three finishers in each five-year age group bracket won New Balance gift certificates, and all registered finishers 10 years old and younger of the Ridgewood YMCA Fun Run/Health Walk received finisher’s medals.

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