Scott Cannon thought he had pneumonia when he went pale and felt his chest tightening at work on July 7, 2014. His now-wife thought differently and took him to the emergency room. When he arrived, Cannon’s heart was only pumping a third of what it should have been. Cannon, now 33, of Clarksville, was diagnosed with heart failure, hospitalized for a week and put on multiple medications so his heart could heal.

About two weeks after he was discharged, Cannon received an email sent to employees at his job at Allen & Shariff Corporation. It was an invitation to join Howard Community College’s (HCC) 5K Challenge Race, a wellness and team-building event that raises funds for student scholarships. Cannon got the green light from his doctor and, motivated to improve his health, he eagerly joined the company’s team.

On Oct. 30, 2016, Cannon will return for the third annual HCC 5K Challenge Race. He’ll be surrounded by more than 400 employees from 40-plus area businesses, who will run, climb and crawl to the finish line in celebration village filled with cheering participants.

The HCC 5K Challenge Race differs from other races as it specifically targets businesses, with sponsorships ranging from $750 to $5,000. All employees of sponsoring companies can participate in weekly group training runs and learn about topics that improve your health and wellness. The Howard Community College Educational Foundation, which organizes the race, has partnered this year with Columbia Association and the American Heart Association.

Cannon will participate in one of three teams at Allen & Shariff. He’ll be joined on race-day by Zack Shariff, chair of the HCC 5K Challenge Race Committee and CEO of Allen & Shariff.

Like Cannon, Shariff is committed to staying healthy after having overcome a heart-related illness. Shariff, 60, suffered a heart attack in 1997. He was a marathon runner who worked out regularly, but learned he had high cholesterol and blocked arteries, which led to the attack. He started eating healthier, gave up processed foods, and prioritizes exercise.

“The race is for a great cause, to raise funds for student scholarships and to promote a change to a healthy lifestyle for the participants,” Shariff said. “The program includes 90 days of organized runs, health programs, and develops lasting relationships.”

Thinking back to 2014, Cannon said he was a little nervous to start the training.

“I was scared to do anything but walk, but the group was supportive, especially Anne Johnson,” he said. “Walking turned to jogging and I didn’t drop dead, so the jogging training began. I’ve done it twice and my times are improving.”

Johnson, director of resource development at HCC, says working with participants who are new to running or haven’t been active in years is rewarding.

“Helping them achieve a little more every week results in improvements both physically and emotionally,” she said.

At Allen & Shariff, employees are provided free, healthy snacks, encouraged to participate in group fitness (such as the 5K Challenge) and periodically have weight loss challenges.

“As a good corporate citizen, companies should encourage health and wellness programs within their organizations, but most importantly, be an example to others in the community by their active participation,” Shariff said.

Cannon cherishes the bonding that takes place at the race and encourages other businesses to take part.

“It’s a fun way to hang out with co-workers after hours,” he said. “You get support from the group that keeps you active through training.”

He also has lost 35 pounds since his health scare in 2014. His favorite part of the race is crossing the finish line without stopping.

“I’m a big guy — my times are not impressive,” he said. “But the training and finishing the race are rewarding. My time improved by three minutes the second year.”

Shariff enjoys watching participants, like Cannon, improve over time.

“These runs are fun, but most important to me is witnessing the transformation in the participants over the course of the three-month timeframe,” he said. “Even more gratifying is that some of the participants have made a long-term change to physical exercise and healthy living.”

“It’s also for a great cause, helping HCC students with scholarships,” he said.

The HCC Educational Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports Howard Community College and its students, expects to raise more than $100,000 for student scholarships through the HCC 5K Challenge Race. The scholarships, made possible through the sponsoring businesses, will make a difference in the lives of HCC students, said Johnson.

“With scholarships, students will have the support they need to succeed in their classrooms, workplaces and our community,” she said.

For more information about the race, visit howardcc.edu/hccchallenge or contact the college’s development office at 443-518-1970.