Running Together Again: The Kennett Run returns04/19/2022 03:59PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
It would be difficult to imagine now – with the world slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy – what the tenor of the meetings were like in the early spring of 2020, when the organizers of that year’s Kennett Run, scheduled for that May, faced an uphill battle of deciding what to do as the world seemed to close itself up.
“We were halfway through the process of putting the run together when the pandemic hit,” said Bob Merkle, who replaces Chris Daney as the Kennett Run President. “We had hundreds of runners already signed up and had about 80 percent of the sponsorships locked in, so it was a simply communicating to everyone that we were not going to have the race that year because of the onset of COVID-19.”
Ultimately, the 2020 Kennett Run was cancelled, but instead of a giant cloud, the race’s organizers saw that a silver lining emerged. The business community of the Kennett Square area came through again, just as they had since the race began in 1989, when it was conceived as a fundraising event that has to date contributed more than $1.2 million to area organizations.
“Knowing full well that the many sponsors were about to enter into a precarious time of their own and potentially struggle to survive, we asked them, ‘Do you want your contributions to be returned, or can we keep it and place it where needed in the community?’” Merkle said. “The vast majority of our sponsors told us, ‘Keep it and use it wisely.”
Members of the Kennett Run Charities Board of Directors then contacted Carrie Freeman, the CEO of the United Way of Chester County. Through Freeman’s assistance and recommendation, the Board identified which organizations needed the funding the most. As a result, Kennett Area Community Services and the Oxford Area Neighborhood Services Center each received a $30,000 contribution in 2020.
“As soon as COVID-19 hit, both of these food cupboards were being overrun with demand,” Merkle said. “We literally reversed our whole decision process, due to their enormous need.”
As 2020 fell into 2021, the Kennett Run Board of Directors expressed their optimism that the pandemic was going to disappear, and allow the annual race to resume in 2021. What they all thought would last six months turned into a two-year tsunami that continued to shut the doors of local businesses, event stages and activities, including the 2021 Kennett Run.
Through the ingenuity of former race director JJ Simon, the Kennett Run went virtual in 2021, as more than 400 runners and walkers completed their 5-kilometer, 10-kilometer of one-mile run/walk at a time and place of their choosing over a nine-day period beginning on May 15 and ending at midnight on May 23.
Each participant received a 2021 Kennett Run t-shirt, a race bib and other give-a-ways, and had the opportunity to post their finish times on the Kennett Run’s social media pages.
“We realized that the only way we could sponsor the race this year was to do a socially distant event, but then it led to the idea of tracking everyone’s times, and that would require us to have our usual course, and permits were not being handed out for events at the park,” said Simon. “So if we couldn’t have a place, then the virtual concept became the way to go, and we expanded it to give people the freedom to do this any time and anywhere, over a nine-day period.”
“Running Together Again,” the theme of this year’s Kennett Run, is in many ways reflective of the diligence and determination of not only the Kennett Run Board of Directors but to the local running community to see beyond a worldwide pandemic.
“The selection of this year’s theme was in many ways an obvious one, because that in effect is what we are all doing – running together again,” Merkle said. “We may have had a Kennett Run in 2021, but we could not run together. We could not bring people together and celebrate a traditional event.
“For runners, exercise is a social activity for the majority of them. We’re hoping that we can help reinforce that it is time to get back together and get active again, and end the isolation that has been imposed upon us.”
The 32nd Kennett Run will take place on May 7, beginning at Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square. To register for the 5K Run/Walk, 10K Run, the 5K or 10K PoweRun or the One-Mile Run/Walk, visit www.kennettrun.net.
If a competitor registers for the race early, he or she can designate a particular high school booster club of their choice to receive a $5 donation from their entry fee.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].