Strengthening Legs and Community


By Matt Larson

Brazen Racing provides races for runners of all rankings.

Running is healthy, we all know that. But running together, with friends and strangers? That takes it to another level. Since 2009, Brazen Racing has provided us with countless opportunities to get to know ourselves, and our neighbors.

“Building community is kind of the bigger thing over the actual sport itself of running,” said Brazen Racing Founder and Race Director Sam Fiandaca. He explains how people can often end up isolating themselves a bit by sticking to the same social circles, same grocery stores, same everything for too long. When this happens, he says, “I think your world becomes a little smaller.” Attending an event with Brazen Racing allows you to get out, get active, and meet people you wouldn’t normally meet anywhere else.

“When you’re out there running with other people, you’re all in it together,” Fiandaca explains. “You’re just out there with your fellow human beings running, appreciating the outside, really feeling alive and appreciating the other people; it’s hard to exert that kind of physical effort and remain anything but happy at the end by the time you’re done with it all.” The world could sure learn a lot from Brazen Racing, we think.

For us in the Bay Area, there’s plenty of Brazen Racing to go around. Last year they solely produced 28 running events and supported another 40-50. They tend to keep the races close to home here in West County, but extend to reaches as far as Vacaville, San Jose and Livermore. Most of their events are 5k, 10k and half-marathon distances, as well as a select amount of marathon or 50k races, which gives runners of all levels some great opportunities. Most Brazen Racing events average about 1,100 runners; sometimes half that, sometimes twice that. If by now you’re feeling pretty intimidated, don’t worry, even the most novice runners have a place with Brazen Racing.

“It’s perfectly fine to start by walking,” Fiandaca says. “Run for 30 seconds, walk for a few minutes, run for 30 seconds, walk a few minutes, and build up from there.” A common fear of an anxious entrant is that they’ll be the last one to finish the race. First of all, “it’s almost never the case as there’s always someone slower than you,” he reassures us. Second, “even if you are the last person—who cares? There has to be somebody who’s last, and nobody’s going to look down on you for that.” Additionally, with so many different race lengths, a 5k runner has plenty of opportunities to work their way up to marathon level by attending 10k or half marathons provided by Brazen.

As a nonprofit organization, Brazen Racing strengthens the community inside and out. Some of their most popular events are at Thanksgiving time, which last year raised about 4,000 pounds of food that was donated to local food banks—primarily to the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano—as well as around $6-$7,000 for them. And throughout the year they raise funds for the East Bay Regional Park District’s Campership Program, which is like a scholarship designed to send kids from lower-income areas to camp. And that’s just in the East Bay! Brazen Racing is making an impact all over the greater Bay Area and, now in their 8th year of operations, they’re really just getting started.

Fiandaca looks forward to seeing new faces at every Brazen race, and invites you to join them! If you’re still a little unsure of your abilities and want to wait to get in “peak physical condition,” maybe, ya know, just get started now? “You don’t want to wait forever,” he says. “If you do an event it’s going to make you want to run more. You’re better off just going out and trying it.”

To book your race or get more information, visit Don’t forget to stretch!


El Cerrito’s Holiday Display is a Folk Art Treasure


By Michelle Fadelli | Photos courtesy of the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display collection

Hand in hand, a man will whisper to his child, “My parents used to bring me here on Christmas Eve when I was a little boy.”

Indeed, the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display has been delighting the residents of El Cerrito, and visitors from far and wide, since 1950.  Every year, people return to see this vintage exhibit with fond memories, whether they remember it from a few years ago…or 50 years or more.

The display is a vast collection of hand-made human figures, animals and buildings that, when assembled, depict the historical walk of the wise men toward Bethlehem—lit by the glow of a sparkling star under the gaze of a golden-haired angel.

Visitors to the annual holiday event in the El Cerrito hills will be enchanted by dozens of sheep and their shepherds, camels and camel drivers, dogs and donkeys, and the three wise men as they approach the dwellings and domes of Bethlehem.

The entire display was hand-crafted by the late Mr. Sundar Shadi, a beloved long-time resident of El Cerrito, and it is truly a folk art treasure.

The camels, sheep and donkeys are made mostly of stucco over chicken wire, balanced on strips of salvaged wood.  The buildings of Bethlehem are made from old wooden milk crates, coffee tins and other recycled and salvaged items.  Villagers and wise men are stick-and-wire figures with beards made from discarded rope.  And all the figurines have quaint, hand-painted features.

Mr. Shadi, a Sikh gentleman originally from India who immigrated to the United States to attend UC Berkeley, began the collection with a single Christmas star in 1949 and added animals, figurines and buildings each year.  During his lifetime, the display graced the hillside next to his home on Arlington Boulevard.  Following his death in 2002 at the age of 101, local volunteers now arrange for the display on open space down the hill not far from the original site.

This year, many of the villagers will be sporting new robes and head coverings thanks to former Mayor Jane Bartke, who recently invited several friends to help replace weathered clothing on the villagers.  Other volunteers are working to restore some of animals which have crumbled a bit during storage or have broken over the years during transportation.  Others will set up lighting to illuminate the display for five hours each evening.

Start or continue a tradition!  Enhance your holiday with a visit to this wonderful event, and share it with family and friends.

The Sundar Shadi Holiday Display will go up on Sunday, December 11th and will remain through December 26th, lit each evening from 5 to 10 pm, at 7501 Moeser Lane in El Cerrito. 

For more information, including details on musical performances, volunteering this holiday season or donating for restoration work, please visit 

For fun photos and stories, follow us on Facebook at: