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Running as fundraisers during pandemic turns into a new virtual reality for Danville area
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Running as fundraisers during pandemic turns into a new virtual reality for Danville area

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“It was not hard to rethink it,” Karen Johnston said about the Bridge2Bridge Danville event she founded 11 years ago.

The event includes a 5K walk, 5K and 10K runs, bike routes of various lengths and a fun run for children. Proceeds benefit the Danville-Pittsylvania Cancer Association, and the event is usually in April.

But the Bridge2Bridge Danville is one of several local races that restructured during the pandemic to ensure the safety of the participants and the volunteers while raising money.

“We rescheduled for June, then July and then August,” Johnston recalled. “Then we were going to wait until next year, but the Cancer Association called and said they needed the money, so we said OK.”

In June they decided to go virtual and then had to figure out just how to do that.

“We kept hoping and thinking that it [the pandemic] would be over, but it’s not. Our most important thought is to keep people healthy and safe,” Johnston said. “So far it is going well.”

She said the volunteers found help from resources such as the Danville Running and Fitness Club and the Parks and Recreation Department with the city of Danville.

“We all put our brains together and got creative, then we got the ball rolling in July,” she said.

Johnston declined to say whether or not a virtual 5K was harder to organize than an actual one, but she called it a “blessing” and a “privilege” to organize the event, knowing it is helping someone else.

“The purpose is to help cancer patients in the area, and it takes a village to put this on,” she said. “We are all volunteers balancing work and family, but when we call, the volunteers are there.”

The virtual event will be this month. Participants who had signed up for the April event can all defer to April 2021.

She said registration is going well and she expects it will pick up this month.

For information on how to participate and to register, go to bridge2bridge danville.com.

“We try to raise $50,000,” Johnston said. “Are we going to make it this race? We’re going to try.”

Keeping it in person

The SoVah Health River City 5K is an annual race that is not going virtual this year but is taking precautions to keep runners, walkers and volunteers safe from the coronavirus. The race will be Oct. 17, concurrently with the Danville Half Marathon, sponsored by the URW Community Federal Credit Union.

“With virtual races it’s sort of hard to be competitive,” said L.C. Moore, president of the Danville Running and Fitness Club, which puts on both the races and helps with other running events in the area. “We have been having the River City race in September but moved it to October because we were worried about COVID-19.”

With the pandemic still going strong in October, however, the group had to decide how to do it safely.

Moore said he believes chip timing will make the races both possible and safe. Participants wear a chip either on their shoe or a bib that records their time, instead of times being recorded as they cross the finish line.

“The city did a race earlier, in July, and we are going to do what they did,” Moore said. “We will be furnishing bags, including face masks, to all runners at the starting area, which they can remove when they start the race. They will also receive a mask when they finish. They will line up on socially distanced marks in the street.”

The bags will also include the finisher’s medal, usually given out as the runner finishes, to avoid congregating at the end when people are breathing heavily from the exertion of the race.

“We will try to get everyone to wear a mask when congregating,” Moore said.

He said he is a little surprised the number of 5K participants (100 so far) who have signed up is down from last year when a lot of high school students signed up for a reduced rate.

“The half-marathon has more signed up than last year, though,” he noted. “I think it’s because other half marathons in the area have been canceled. I’m getting more from out of town than local people.”

Alan Larson, CEO of Sovah Health-Danville, said the hospital takes pride in partnering with the community to sponsor healthy events such as the River City 5K and other races. The hospital encourages the employees to participate by providing complimentary registrations.

“Due to the pandemic this year, I am excited that we are still able to have the races virtual or while following proper social distancing guidelines,” Larson said.

To register for either race, go to runsignup.com and search for “River City 5K” and “Danville Half Marathon.” The River City 5K benefits the cross-country running programs in the city and county high schools. The Half Marathon benefits The Children’s Miracle Network.

CROP Hunger Walk

Beth Bauman, recruitment chairperson for the annual CROP Hunger Walk, said when the planning team gathered via Zoom in April, it was difficult to look ahead to the fall.

“But the national office said that the spring walks had successfully gone virtual, so we made the decision to go virtual,” she said.

Participants will raise donations and then walk wherever they want Sunday. The organization is describing it as “walk together apart.”

Bauman noted some planning for the walk was easier without the logistics of hosting a big walk. The main task instead has been getting out the word about the walk being virtual.

“Walkers can raise money virtually by signing up and donating online, or they can collect checks or cash,” Bauman said. “Donations can also be left at God’s Storehouse on Oct. 4 from 3 to 5 p.m. After that, donations can be dropped off at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church at 107 West Main St. any weekday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.”

Approximately one third of the funds raised go to God’s Storehouse locally, and the rest goes to Church World Service, which funds sustainable development projects in developing countries.

“Since our founding, we have raised more than $180,000, with more than $55,000 going to God’s Storehouse,” Bauman said. “We were very pleased that a large percentage of our corporate sponsors made donations again this year. Groups can register online, and several have.”

She said the event usually doesn’t know how many people are participating until the actual walk day, but she has heard from a number of groups that are “enthusiastically participating.”

“Our goal this year is $25,000, and last year we raised $19,233.34,” she said. “But because of the pandemic, the needs around the world are greater than ever. Decades of progress in fighting malnutrition are being reversed and the situation is dire.

“People are invited to visit our website, danville cropwalk.org, if they have questions, would like to register or want to make an online donation.”

Wobble and Gobble 5K

The Wobble and Gobble Autism Awareness 5K also has gone virtual this year. The run, sponsored by the Junior Wednesday Club, raises money and donates it to the Danville Science Center for projects and events that support families affected by autism.

“We switched to virtual in July,” said Jennifer Hardy, chairperson and race director of the event. “The dates are Nov. 11 through Nov. 14. Participants can register and can walk and run anywhere during those days. It’s an honor system.”

She said last year’s event drew more than 250 participants, plus the volunteer staff, and the organizers didn’t want that many people gathering together this year.

“Changing to virtual has had its positives and negatives,” she said. “We are trying to promote it online, so that has been easier, but the families that this race supports will miss coming together for a common cause.”

Last year the 5K raised $10,000 for the Danville Science Center. Hardy said she doesn’t know if they can raise that much this year, but she said she knows the science center would appreciate any amount.

To sign up, go to runsignup.com and search for “Wobble Gobble Autism Awareness 5K-Virtual.”

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or (434) 791-7991.

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or (434) 791-7991.

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