The elite runners and Olympians often grab the headlines at the CVS Health Downtown 5K, but the event - in its 27th year - now includes a lot of runners you may not have seen on the news: from toddlers to high schoolers and a race designed specifically for kids with disabilities. This month Jim Hummel goes behind the scenes, to talk with a group that has run every year since the race began in 1990 and one of the organizers who talks about how the day is geared specifically to health.
Click here for more information about the CVS Health Downtown 5K.
This is the scene most of us watch unfold on the 6 o’clock news every year. Thousands of runners - and walkers - taking off on a Sunday in mid-September for the CVS Downtown 5K. The race also features elite runners, with a handful of Olympians occasionally sprinkled in.
But what you may not see is this side of the event: races for kids of all ages and abilities: From those who can barely walk right on up to middle and high school age. And one of the most poignant parts of the day: The All Kids Can race that sends this message:
Eileen: ``We support children with disabilities and we thought every opportunity we want to be inclusive.’’
CVS Health Senior Vice President Eileen Howard Boone says the All Kids Can event, which began in 2007, has become one of the more popular races leading up to the signature 5K, which this year had more than 6,000 participants.
Eileen: ``So if you think about this race in particular, we have elite athletes, Olympians, we’ve got kids from K-12 really, and this was an opportunity for them to participate as well. Because this is really a family event, even though we have these superior athletes this is a family event.’’
And getting ready for her turn: 10-year old Kalianna Herrera, with her mother Jenna. The Herreras heard about the race through Meeting Street School, where Kali is a 4th-grader. We caught up with then right after the race.
Jenna: ``So being involved in something like this is like her being able to go to a birthday party. It’s being included and it’s really important. She was a little nervous, she didn’t know what was going on. Then I think once she got started, she got to see what everybody doing it, she got excited.’’
And just like the elite runners Kali and the others were treated to a cheering crowd lining the race course in front of the Providence Place Mall.
Jenna: ``It’s exciting to see people that aren’t scared of her. Because a lot of people they look at wheelchairs and the don’t know what to say or how to react. They just think oh they can’t do it, they can’t do anything. But they can, they’re so much more than just a chair. It’s exciting to see people clapping for her and see oh yeah, just cause they’re in a wheelchair they’re stuck.’’
Eileen: ``It’s really one of my favorite parts of the downtown 5K because it’s an opportunity for the kids to achieve. They train for months beforehand. They really get involved in it. They love the medal, they love the t-shirt they get to compete in the Downtown 5K. So it’s a really special moment for the kids, the parents and us.’’
The Downtown 5K is in its 27th year. CVS took over as the title sponsor in 2000 and the event draws thousands of people to Providence every fall to run the streets of downtown. What you also may not know is the charitable component of the race.
Eileen: ``The downtown 5K supports running programs. It’s critical when you think about investment in our future, investments in our young people. Running programs are important so this event supports a lot of running programs in most middle and high schools as well as healthcare non-profits. So we’re really trying to give back in a way that delivers on our purposes of helping people on their path to better health. What better path than the Downtown 5 K?’’
And every year high school cross country and track teams from across the region dress up with various themes to run the race.
Then there is a group called The Downtown Dashers - runners who have participated in every race since this event began as the Harvard Pilgrim 5K `Run Drugs out of Town’ event in 1990. We caught up with a handful of them before this year’s race.
Dave Dean, one of the Dashers has the original shirt from 1990.
Dave: ``It’s a lot of fun, it really is. They make it a good experience. With all of the kids and energy this year. It’s one of the most positive races because of the energy it’s for a good cause too, you know that you’re helping out CVS through their charities.’’
Joe McNamara: ``It’s one of the few sports where someone like me, who is a real novice and not a tremendous runner can compete with world-class athletes. And that’s still very exciting.’’
Susan Dean: ``The charity part is a big part of it, that sometimes a lot of other races just have one focus, but this has many facets too it.’’
Barry Elfstrom: ``I always describe it as kind of a carnival feeling to me that’s why I liked it a lot, it was low key, you weren’t going to run real fast in a crowd of people. It was a fun thing to do and I get my run in for the day. And go home.’’
Warren Alper: ``I think it’s a great thing for Providence. It’s a great thing for running in this area. That’s good to see because I’ve been doing this for a long time and you’ve seen the running craze at one time, when it went down. Big races like this keep people interested.’’
Joe McNamara: ``I’m more about enjoying the whole experience during these races if someone falls I pick them up, I’m not concerned about my time. I always like to get a nice finishing photo, so I look for a group of slower young people to finish in front of to show my kids.’’
Hummel: ``When you stand back and watch some of those races, what goes through your mind?’’
Eileen: ``Well, when I stand back and watch the kids’ I’ve got a little internal agenda because I have lots of my kids that run in this race and lots of our team members that are running. So pretty much every race we know people. So we’re cheering them on and it’s a great affirmation of all the hard work that the team does. It’s not something we sort of just play at. We take it very seriously. We try to give back in every way we can and this is a perfect way of really showcasing health. It’s a huge event. It’s really fun. People like it and we try to do new things every year to really make it fun. So whether it’s goody bags we put together, t-shirts in new interesting ways. Medals have been a really big hit, so there’s a fun kind of mix of fun and entertainment. If you see the roads around here, you’ve got parents you’ve got little kids, older people, high schoolers dressing up. This is an opportunity for people to come together and to celebrate being outside on a beautiful September day.’’
In Downtown Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.