To help raise money for her children’s school, Ave Maria Academy mother Katie O’Keefe suggested a race as a fun, healthy activity.

The big question was: when?

“I thought, St. Patrick’s Day is the right day. My maiden name is Kelly. My last name is O’Keefe. So I thought, this is the right time for a race,” O’Keefe said.

And so she embarked on organizing the Shamrock Shuffle 5K Run/Walk to benefit Ave Maria, which has campuses at the former St. Thomas More School in Bethel Park and St. Bernard School in Mt. Lebanon.

Because of health considerations, the event featured smaller groups at various locations instead of everyone congregating at a single venue.

For example, fellow Ave Maria Academy mom Janelle D’Eramo invited a group to Ripepi Winery in Carroll Township, the family business where she serves as events manager.

That’s where Katie and husband Bernie, Upper St. Clair residents, took third-grade daughters Kelly and Elly, second-grader Bubba and young Joey, joining other runners and walkers on a recent warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

Shamrock Shuffle venues, though, weren’t quite limited to relative proximity to the school. Katie came up with an idea to bolster event participation.

“What if we try to get someone in all 50 states,” she said.

And so efforts toward “Ave Maria Academy Runs Across America” began, with Katie getting plenty of assistance, particularly from her friend Natalie Podkul.

“She got a printout of a map and a highlighter, and we started highlighting every state and sharing it on social media. And we got all 50 states, plus three countries,” Katie said.

More than 750 people signed up to cover 5 kilometers at various paces, most of them wearing green T-shirts that were produced for the event.

“What’s really cool is we mailed all of their packets and their shirts, and we sent signs that say ‘AMA Runs’ and they wrote in their states,” Katie said. “So we have dozens of people posting on our Shamrock Shuffle page running in Alaska and New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

She thanks the event’s sponsors and donors, who covered the cost of the shirts and provided a variety of gifts and raffle items. Thanks to their generosity, 100% of the race’s proceeds, more than $20,000, can go toward supporting the school.

Donations also can be made through the Shamrock Shuffle website,

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!