Kyle Brownley couldn’t have known that his running and college studies would end up intersecting this spring, but that’s exactly what’s happening thanks to a classroom visit from a local marathoner who is passionate about an organization that pairs adult mentors with children in the community.

Kyle, who is taking a business class this semester at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, says he and his classmates were inspired to start a race as their class project after hearing from Tony Anderson, a runner who is tackling marathons in all 50 states to raise funds and awareness of an organization close to his heart: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.

“Initally, I felt that I was in the same boat as many others when it came to my knowledge of Big Brothers Big Sisters — I was aware of the organization, and felt that I had a loose grasp on how they actually operated,” Kyle says. “However, I was absolutely blindsided by the effect Tony’s story had on me. From the moment he was done sharing his amazing experience, I was committed to helping this cause in any way I could. Not only does this program change the lives of every child involved, but Tony made it very clear that the mentor’s lives were equally affected.”

The students learned of Tony’s own late-summer trail race that benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters — this is a race Andrew and I have run together a couple of times — and decided they could do something similar to help the cause.

“The idea of doing a race in the spring, to complement Tony’s Marathon 4 Kids, seemed like the perfect way for our class to support Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Kyle says. “The aspect of the race that appealed to me was the ability for us to continue the event annually. I wanted us to be able to lay the infrastructure for an event that would bring support and awareness to this cause long after this semester’s class project ended.”

The students, along with their instructor Kristy McDonald — a runner training for her first marathon this spring — are behind the BIG Little Hero Race set for Saturday, April 11. This superhero-themed event (come wearing your favorite superhero costume!) features a timed 10K and 5K as well as a free fun run with prizes for all children who participate.

I visited the business class taught by Kristy McDonald (left) to learn more about the BIG Little Hero Race. Also pictured here is student Kyle Bromley, who is serving as co-race director with Kristy.
I visited the business class taught by Kristy McDonald (left) to learn more about the BIG Little Hero Race. Also pictured here is student Kyle Bromley, who is serving as co-race director with Kristy.

MRG is partnering with the students in getting the word out about this race, and I recently caught up with race directors Kristy and Kyle to learn more about their running journeys and this race. (They’re also offering a race discount code to MRG readers — details below.)

Kristy: I started running two years ago using the Couch to 5K App. I had never been a runner and after I had my three children I wanted to do something other than yoga for myself. I started with two girlfriends and I could hardly breathe! That summer I ran my first race. The next winter I ran my first half marathon – the Snowmans Half in January in a total blizzard – and was hooked. The Bayshore Half was when I decided I wanted to run a full. Seeing all of the runners pass gave me goose bumps, and I knew I wanted to train for that. I am struggling a bit running through the snow and cold but I have a great running partner, and every week is getting easier. There are so many runners around here who are inspiring, and the running community is such a great group of people. I think everyone can run – I hope this project not only helps my students professionally communicate but I hope they might also decide they want to start running.

Kyle: So far I have only had a brief history with running. I started running a couple of years ago as a way to mix some much needed cardio into my exercise routine. I’m proud to say I have stuck with it and currently run about 10 miles a week. At the behest of a few runner friends, I had
already been looking into running my first official 5K before this race was even conceived. I am excited that my first race will be one that I not only get to organize, but also for such a worthy cause.

The BIG Little Hero Race will take place Saturday, April 11, 2015 on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.
The BIG Little Hero Race will take place Saturday, April 11, 2015 on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.

How did the idea of the BIG Little Hero Run come about? Why was it important to have this race benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Kristy: We had Tony Anderson come in with a few other members of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board, and Tony has an incredible story. His life was changed by having a positive mentor as a child. He believes so much in the power of positive role models for children that the students were inspired to help with Marathon 4 Kids, which is Tony’s way to raise money for BBBS. He has a race in August out on his property called the Big Little Race, we thought we could invite the community to become heroes like all of the people who are heroes to the children who need a positive mentor in their life. We came up with the line every child needs a hero and then we thought it would be fun to have a race where everyone was dressed like superheroes. Of course, you can run without a costume too. We have decided that this will be an annual race and will be the sister race to Tony’s Big Little Race in August.

The children that are in the program have significantly higher self-esteem, lower drug and alcohol use, higher grades and most of all hope. As a class we were instantly committed to this cause, and to helping BBBS by raising awareness, resources and having a fun community event that celebrates this awesome program. They currently serve around 300 children in the five county area but have around 100 on a waiting list. Each match of a big and little costs around $1,200. All of the funds from this race go directly to BBBS. Even if you don’t want to run you can walk!

How would you describe the race experience runners will have if they sign up for the 10K or 5K?

Kristy: We have a great race course that winds around the NMC Main Campus and then out the peninsula and back on to campus to finish in front of West Hall. There is a free one mile fun run for kids that starts at 9 a.m. that is sponsored by NMC’s College for Kids. Every child that runs
will get a free superhero cape and mask. There will be fun super hero themed signs along the way courtesy of Peninsula Business Forms that inspire you and tell you what mile you are on.

After the race there will be a ceremony in West Hall with snacks from local places such as: Great Lakes Potato Chips, Red Mesa, Little Caesars, Family Fare, Jimmy John’s and Bob Evans homemade cookies. Prizes will be awarded for top runners and best costumes. There will be face painting, balloon art and music to celebrate the race and BBBS.

All proceeds of the BIG Little Hero Race go toward Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.
All proceeds of the BIG Little Hero Race go toward Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan.

Talk about the superhero theme — why was this chosen? What does this mean for runners?

Kristy: We would love everyone to run the race in full superhero costumes. We understand that some people might just wear capes, masks, face paint or even dress as their favorite hero (firefighter, police officer, veteran). If you are a local hero or know someone, please invite them to come out and run with us. You do not have to where a costume to race.

Kyle: The super hero theme appealed to me right away. It helps highlight the importance of supporting a cause like BBBS in a fun way that appeals to the most important members — the kids! Not to mention, what adult doesn’t want an excuse to run around dressed as their favorite super hero? Especially when it’s in support of such a worthy organization.

Special race discount code for MRG readers: Use the code MIRUNNERGRL at checkout for $5 off your race entry. Register here »

A few more race details: Alfie Embroidery in Traverse City has signed on as a super hero sponsor and will be donating technical race shirts for everyone who registers by March 25. There is a $15 student rate for the race. Students should plan on bringing their NMC Student ID or high school ID to packet pickup. Packet pickup will be 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 10 in West Hall on NMC’s Main Campus. The event is a chip-timed race by Endurance Evolution. The one mile fun run starts at 9 a.m., the 5K and 10K at 9:30 a.m. The race route winds around Northwestern Michigan College’s main campus and out along the Bay.

After the event head to West Hall at NMC’s main campus for the awards ceremony, prizes and fun events for kids of all ages. Face painting, balloon animals and more. All proceeds of this event will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan. Check out the race Facebook page here »

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