Awesome 3000 gives sense of community to thousands

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Awesome 3000 gives sense of community to thousands

Published 12:36 p.m. PT May 6, 2017 | Updated 7:35 p.m. PT May 6, 2017

Every Awesome 3000 participant gets a boom of claps and cheers as they cross the finish line. No matter what.

An aisle of yellow, white, and green flags guide the preK-12 runners to the end of their races, where they are given medals and snacks, and a warm embrace from family members and friends. Hundreds of people fill the stands.

Just like when students walk across the graduation stage, the entire community cheers them on as they finish their race, said Krina Lee, executive director of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation.

“We do whatever it takes,” she said. “We know if a child needs something, this community will come together to help.”

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Awesome 3000 and the beginning of its founding organization, the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. Thousands of students in the Salem-Keizer area have taken part in the annual running event since its inception in 1982.

In addition to dancing mascots, colorful balloons, hundreds of neon green shirts, furry canines, and the lively activity village, there were 4,800 pieces of cake at the stadium Saturday. “It is our birthday,” Lee said.

The inaugural class nearly four decades ago had 181 runners. This year brought in more than 2,930 participants and about 600 volunteers, the most of any year.

“Not only is (the event) a community rite of passage, but it promotes health and wellness,” Lee said.

The event touts races for all ages — as well as for special needs students, a “Why College is Awesome” essay contest, and scholarships for Title I or economically disadvantaged students to participate.

Proceeds from the event go to the foundation’s Innovation Grants, which go to local teachers to support “innovative and creative” projects and programs.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants have been given from money raised by the event, Lee said in a previous interview with the Statesman Journal. The foundation has contributed millions of dollars in educational initiatives since 1982 as well.

Though volunteers had to weather the winds and rain Friday to set up, Lee said, “Mother Nature was our best friend today — today is glorious.”

The sun rose over McCulloch Stadium with a light breeze and temperatures in the 40s and 50s throughout the day, the perfect mix for active bodies.

To begin their races, students were grouped by grade and gender and lead onto the field to warm up. Jumping jacks, toe touches, conga-line like group activities, and some friendly girls vs. boys chants got the runners ready to race.

Before they took off, the groups were led by volunteers to the start line.

Dave Johnson, an Olympic medalist who now works in the Woodburn School District, has pulled the start gun for the event for almost ten years.

Saturday, he shouted to the kids, “Are you ready?” Immediately, the students cheered, “Yeah!”

“Alright, here we go, “he said, “On you marks. Ready …” He raised the start gun in the air and with a bang, the runners were off, winding the track through Bush’s Pasture Park.

Christy Perry, the superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District, stands at the finish line with some friends every year and greets students as they complete their races. She said she appreciates how much care is put into making sure the students are kept safe.

“It’s a community building event as much as it is (everything else),” she said. “It’s intentional and inclusive.”

As the runners reach the last stretch of the race, older students cheer them on and encourage them to finish strong.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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