Competitors in the 2014 Run for Heroes Marathon run through the starting line at the Libro Credit Union Centre. Photo by: Adam D’Andrea.
By Ron Giofu
The Run for Heroes race event will be held in Amherstburg next month but don’t look for the event to return to Amherstburg in 2016.
The event – presented by Running Flat – will see a 5K run, a 5K walk, a 10K run and 10K walk, a kids marathon, and the half-marathon start and finish at the Libro Centre Sept. 20 but race director Chris Uszynski noted it will be the last one staged in Amherstburg.
The decision was a difficult one for Uszynski and his family, given the race has been a fundraiser for the Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex County. Uzsynski’s father had Alzheimer’s Disease and his mother was the primary caregiver for many years.
“We created this event, we nurtured it, we babied it and we developed it from its infancy,” said Uszynski.
While the decision was announced last week, Uszynski said he and his Running Flat team have been debating it for a good portion of this year.
“It’s been tearing me up for weeks,” he said. “It’s deeply personal. This race is named after my mom. We put everything we have into this.”
The event started as the World Alzheimer’s Day Ultra-Marathon with a 69K run in 2007, an 88K run in 2008 and 100K runs in 2009 and 2010, all ending in Amherstburg. It was turned into the Run for Heroes Marathon in 2011 but high costs of staging a full 42K marathon caused that particular race to be shelved after the 2014 event, though the smaller races will be run one more time this year.
“This event wasn’t for the runners in Amherstburg, it was for the citizens of Amherstburg to show off the town,” said Uszynski.
Uszynski estimates that over 6,000 participants have come to Amherstburg along with friends and family, many of whom come from places at least 90 minutes away. He said the region gained $2.8 million in economic activity over the past four years with runners coming from all over Canada and 30 U.S. states.
A lack of sponsorship dollars has been one of the factors causing the race to shut down locally. Unsure whether it is the local economy causing sponsorship dollars to be tight or whether it is people and companies not seeing a value in the race, Uszynski said it is tough to get sponsorship dollars in the region for this race.
“It’s not for a lack of trying,” he said. “We’ve met with some corporate offices in Toronto trying to get them to sponsor events down here and they won’t do it.”
Local businesses have been giving their sponsorship dollars to other organizations or causes, he added, with five water station sponsors being lost for this year’s event.
In a smaller market like Amherstburg, Uszynski said they need roughly $30-35,000 in sponsorships.
“We don’t get government funding,” he said. “We are a private corporation because of the liability of what we do.”
Another challenge of staging the race in Amherstburg is accommodations. With five bed and breakfasts and a campground listed in the town’s tourist guide, Uszynski said that leads participants to Windsor where they are 30 minutes away from the race and question whether it is worth coming.
“For most, not really,” he said.
Uszynski has long been a proponent of the town developing a billeting program and has appeared before council in the past asking for help developing such a program. He believes it is a great experience to come into a community and be welcomed and it would be a great experience for Amherstburg residents to meet new people.
“The biggest issue for runners is ‘where do we stay?’” he said. “For four years we’ve been talking to council. “It’s the same issue over and over and over again.”
According to Uszynski, billeting is “very common” at large events like the Olympics, Ironman or Commonwealth Games as hotels can’t handle the volume of people coming in. He believes a smaller scale program could work in Amherstburg.
“The issue is do you want the senior games, do you want the large hockey tournaments and do you want the large soccer tournaments?” he said. “We have to develop a system to billet.”
The race has been promoted in Runner’s World magazine, on Good Morning America and the Today Show, he said. It was marketed as “Canada’s Most Southern Boston Marathon qualifier” and as the fastest and flattest course in the world.
“This was always a world class even people showed up to in a small town,” he said. “This is going to be a huge missed opportunity for the community going forward. It’s a great event for this town but we just can’t make it work.”
Uszynski said he is “always willing to talk to anyone” but they can’t keep presenting the race in town under the current circumstances.
“We live here, we love the town and we’d like to see everything continue but this is the last year for it,” he said. “It is what it is. I can’t sit here and make excuses.”
There are no current plans to take the Run for Heroes event anywhere else, but Uszynski is leaving the door open for just such a possibility. He said Running Flat owns the trademark and the race itself and believes they could field phone calls from other areas requesting the race come to their region.
“Once the word gets out there this is the last year, we’ll get lots of phone calls,” he predicted.
People can still sign up for this year’s Run for Heroes event or any of Running Flat’s other runs by visiting www.runningflat.com. Uszynski said Running Flat isn’t leaving Amherstburg entirely, as the Canada D’Eh 5K run/walk will still be staged locally.
“We’ll continue to do Canada Day in the town,” he said.
Uszynski said this year’s race was the largest Canada Day race in the nation, and estimated 2,500 people came to town including participants and their friends and family.
“They were from everywhere,” he said.