Racing alone, together

Area fundraisers, like the Ferguson Twilight Run, will go on as virtual events where participants complete the race on their own time

By Charlotte Beard

Big River Race Management has made its own footprint in managing races for various causes and helping organizations fulfill their fundraising goals. However, this year many of its races have been hard-hit by the impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing. Its five-time winner of Big River Running’s Best Neighborhood Support Award, the Ferguson Twilight Run, will resume this year as a virtual event.

The 10 miles/10K/5k/1K run or walk that would normally take place on a Saturday starting at Ferguson’s outdoor entertainment area, Plaza at 501, will happen virtually over the three-day weekend of May 15 through May 17. Now in its 11th year, the weekend is being coined as Ferguson Twilight Run Virtual Weekend 2020.

“(For) anyone who wants to participate, if they wake up on Sunday the 17th and think, ‘I want to do this,’ they can register that day,” stated Nez Savala, long-time planning committee member. “We will leave registration available through (Sunday).”

The process for registration includes accessing https://fergtwilightrun.com to provide the participant’s run/walk goal, the $20 registration fee, and T-shirt size that will be mailed after the race weekend. Participants will also receive a race medal and $20 credit for Big River Running. Those without internet access may register by calling 314-325-2197.

This year’s social distancing needs will force all participants to use the honor system.

“A lot of virtual runs do this as well,” stated Savala. “You’ve registered and you’ve paid – we’re going to give you full benefit that you did the race and you did the distance that you claimed you were going to do. It is the commitment to yourself, not to Ferguson Twilight Run. But we’re also asking people once you finish your distance that you tag us on Facebook with a picture.”

The committee is asking that the picture accompany a note indicating that participants have completed their race or an email to racedirector@fergtwilightrun.com. Reporting the participant’s race time is not necessary. Shirts and medals will be shipped to participants after the weekend of the race.

Savala also shared that due to the entire race being virtual this year, the committee has planned for social media spirit week via Facebook (@FergTwilightRun) leading up to May 15 to help build the engagement of its participants. 

“We have plans to do some things that we would normally have done on race day,” stated Savala, “like cheer stations and music. We want to make it as fun as we can in the spirit of Ferguson Twilight Run, making sure that people reach their health and their fitness goals.”

According to Savala, annually her mother has travelled to Ferguson from Kansas City to participate. This year she will continue her involvement by participating virtually. 

“You get to do this on a time that works well for you over (the) weekend; it’s an honor system. We’re looking to have a great time,” stated Savala.

Since the race’s inception, the goal has been to provide and promote health and fitness programs in North County. To date, more than $87,000 has been given to community organizations through the Donnie White Sr. Memorial Beneficiary Award. Donnie White is one of the committee’s volunteers who passed away in 2014. The 2020 beneficiaries are A Red Circle, Emerson Family YMCA, Girls on the Run St. Louis, Ferguson-Florissant School District, and St. Vincent Home for Children. These organizations will also be the beneficiaries of the 2021 Ferguson Twilight Run due to this year’s COVID-19 crisis.

Big River Management has direct involvement in helping the Gateway Resilience Fund in its quest to aid businesses impacted by the pandemic. The Gateway Resilience Run & Ride which began April 4 and ends June 26, is a newly created virtual event in support of the fund. The fund is no longer accepting new applications and will provide short-term monetary relief to employees and owners of independent bars, restaurants and shops in the St. Louis area. 

CEO of Big River Management, Matt Helbig stated, “We primarily help manage and administer racing events all over the country. Around the second week of March when everything started to shut down, basically our entire spring season was cancelled due to COVID-19. We started looking for and thinking about ideas on ways we could continue to support the community and find a way to make some revenue. So, this idea of a virtual run and ride came up. We built out a concept and (searched) for a charity in the area. We had applied for one of the grants with the Gateway Resilience Fund and felt that they were the perfect beneficiary to partner with for this particular event.”

According to Helbig, in March the fund raised over $650,000 which they used to disperse grants totaling $500,000 to small businesses and its employees impacted by COVID-19. Helbig shared that most of the proceeds from this event will go to the fund, however there are three other beneficiaries from which participants can choose when they register. The goal is to raise $25,000 for the Gateway Resilience Fund.

“We have a few charities that are also beneficiaries of the event and those charities are partners of ours that had canceled races. So, we gave them the opportunity to promote this event to their databases and their followers. When people register, they have the option of choosing where their money goes.”

Like Ferguson’s virtual event, the Gateway event is using the honor system for participants reporting their completed goals. 

“A lot of people are using their phones or a Garmin – a GPS watch – and that helps them,” shared Helbig. “When they submit their results, they do not have to show any proof but there is a place to put a link to your Garmin data, Strava data, or whatever app you’re using. That link is optional if people want to submit it.”

To discourage cheating or submission of false information, Helbig stated the event will not provide traditional overall awards or age group rewards. However, participants will receive medals and a T-shirt. There are six different interlocking medals relative to the six ways to participate (5K, 10K, 15K runs and 10, 25, 50 mile bicycle rides). 

“You can sign up to run one event or you can compete in all six,” stated Helbig. “You get 6 medals that all lock together and they are super nice. We should be getting those in the next week or two and will start mailing and dropping them off at people’s houses. I think when people start to get those and share it on social media, we are going to see a resurgence of participants. So far, we (have) over 750 participants and have raised over $6,000 for the fund, not counting the contribution that we’re going to make from the entry fees.”

Registration ranges from $25 to $60 depending on the participant’s chosen goal. Goals may be completed over the remainder of the April 4-June 26 period.

“The goal of this is to just provide some motivation. So many people are running and walking right now due to the pandemic. There is nothing else to do. You cannot go to the gym, go play baseball or go to the movies. People are exercising more now than they ever have. So, this is just one way to give them some additional motivation to get out the door.”

Virtual participants are being given incentives to patronize businesses. Big River Race Management’s sister company, Big River Running Company, is offering $20 off the online purchase of shoes. Maplewood Bicycle is offering $50 off bike purchases. Offerings from other businesses, including small restaurants, are available to participants who sign up. 

To register visit https://runsignup.com/Race/MO/Ballwin/GatewayResilienceRun. To find out more about the Gateway Resilience Fund visit https://stlgives.org/covid19/gateway-resilience-fund.

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy David Bowman Participants race in the 2019 Ferguson Twilight Run. This year’s event will look much different as runners will complete the even virtually on their own time.