Annual event has raised over half a million for Project Parent MD
by BETH ALTENA
This weekend area residents—and runners from as far away as Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom—have the chance to be part of something big—and have a great time in downtown Rockford.
The eleventh annual Mitchell’s Run Thru Rockford starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, August 15. It is a five K run/walk, but those who don’t care to pound the pavement will still find plenty to do. The day’s events also include a kids run at 9:30 a.m.. a silent auction which ends at 10:30 a.m. and a family picnic held on the banks of the Rogue River at Garden Club park. There will be music, vendor booths and a nice opportunity to enjoy Rockford’s inviting downtown.
Eleven years ago Sandy and Steve Peterson, along with a group of friends, organized the first Mitchell’s Run Thru Rockford as a way to raise awareness for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Their son, Mitchell, had recently been diagnosed with the disease. At that time he was only three.
Now in its eleventh year, the five K run/walk, kids run, silent auction and family picnic has surpassed all expectations and become one of Rockford’s most well-attended annual events.
Last year Mitchell’s Run generated an amazing donation of $74,000 for Project Parent MD, an organization that is working to find a cure for Duchenne. The total puts donations in Mitchell’s name at well over a half million dollars for the ten years. As importantly, the Rockford run has been a leader in educating people about the disease.
“From the beginning it has been as much about education as fund raising,” said Sandy Peterson. She said she’d be surprised if there was a person in Rockford who has not heard of the disease, which strikes only boys and worldwide afflicts one in every 3,500. There is no cure for the disease—yet. “I think people are more likely to know, if they see a boy in a wheelchair, that it might be Duchenne,” Sandy said. Here in West Michigan there are 35 to 50 boys with the disease.
The Peterson’s attribute the success of the event to the town, the merchants, the volunteers and the community. “We literally take over their streets and turn them into our own road race,” said Steve. Sandy said that volunteers asking for donations for the silent auction rarely receive a no from the business community. This year’s auction, as in the past, is going to be proof of that generosity. There will be a kayak from Powers Outdoors, a Wii Active, cleaning services, golf packages, Michigan State vs. Penn State football tickets, Michigan vs. Michigan State tickets, a Trek bike, teeth whitening packages, a wide variety of other items. Annually the auction brings in about $8,000.
The Peterson’s say they are proud of the reputation and success of the race. “It was a perfect storm for a premiere road race,” Steve said. The downtown location is just right, the course is nice the City and residents have been more than accommodating. He stated, “Running and Rockford go hand in hand.”
Mitchell’s Run has become a classic in road racing and has steadily drawn more competitive runners over the years. Part of the success comes from having a well-run race, the result of dedicated volunteers who return each year to help and are diligent about details. According to City Manager Michael Young, who runs in the race each year, it shows how much Mitchell has touched the lives of others in Rockford and beyond. “Other organizations have a terrible time coming up with volunteers. Mitchell’s Run literally has a waiting list of people who are willing to step up and help. It’s phenomenal.”
Organizer Mary Seifert said even the kids in Mitchell’s neighborhood also step up and help out. “The Thursday before the race the kids in Mitch’s former neighborhood, Rockford Hills Village, stuff all the race bags. That’s their contribution,” she said. Sandy and Steve said Mitch likes to help out, too. “Now that he’s older, he’s become more involved. At 13, Mitchell looks forward to getting the mail and counting the registrations as they come in. He likes to see how many people are signing up for the event. Last year a record 1,500 runners participated. This year, as of Tuesday, August 11, over 1,000 have pre-registered, up about 300 from the same time last year.
People who come down for the race, the auction or the picnic will enjoy the action and activity. They won’t see the hard work put in to make it all come out well. Volunteers arrange for thirty twenty-pound bags of ice to keep things cool. Other items need to be acquired and in the right place at the right time: watermelons, bananas, bagels, water, vitamin drinks, t-shirts, hot dogs, coffee, bands and port-a-potties. “Everything you see is donated,” said Sandy. Wolverine covers the cost of food, Herman’s Boy donates coffee. “We hate to try to list them all and thank them because there are so many, someone will get left out,” Steve said. Rockford High School bands Half in Control and Tribune play for free.
No matter how big the race gets, the Petersons don’t plan on taking their show elsewhere. “It’s been so good because of the town. We never want to leave downtown Rockford,” said Steve. “We’ll stay until they kick us out.”
The Petersons have no intention of giving up the event any time in the near future. They love that Mitchell feels that Rockford throws a party in his honor each year on the day of the run. Mitchell is excited to see his name in the banner over Ten Mile Road each year. He loves to attend and every year he and his father are side-by-side during the opening ceremonies National Anthem. If he feels up to it, he participates in the race in his wheelchair. “Even if we wanted to give it up, Mitch wouldn’t let us,” said Steve. “He loves it.” To find out more about Mitchell’s Run, visit Mitchellsrun.org.