Fanatically fit, daringly determined and, as proven by Wednesday’s fundraiser, crazy charitable.
The Grand Haven running club took on the biggest, baddest hill in town for some good, old-fashioned repeats for a great cause. By the end of the 45-minute exercise, a group of 10 runners raised $16,578.28 for the Nayamba School in Zambia, Africa — meant to help fund the institution of an athletic academy at the rural school.
“Hill training is great for running in general, and this particular hill is kind of infamous. We know it is a phenomenal challenge for the runners,” said event organizer Susan Tater. “To push against your limits for 45 minutes for a great cause, it was enough motivation to get 10 crazy runners to do it two years in a row.”
Scott McKeel led the way on the lap board, completing 13 repeats of the brutal hill climb, raising $98.69 per lap. Veronica Constantine managed a few fewer laps, but led the way in funds, earning $346.60 for all eight of her repeats.
“I joined the Grand Haven running club in 2015, and from that moment until now it has been a big family of runners with people from all walks of life,” McKeel said. “Having an event like this summarizes how cool everyone is in this community. We thought, ‘Why not run up the biggest hill in Grand Haven and bring some attention to an awesome organization halfway across the world.’”
The Nayamba School was founded in 2012 as a rural school meant to support and educate the children of farmers in Zambia. The school began with three classrooms and has grown to nine, serving more than 290 daily students who previously were cut off from formal education by distance or expense.
“I have two friends in the UK who are trustees of the school,” Tater said of the connection. “I was training for my first marathon and a friend, Kevin Curley, helped me create this model to raise a bunch of money really fast. We raised $20,000 in 45 minutes that first year. It was awesome.
“This year, we pretty much did the same thing as last year. It worked well, so why change it. The runners agreed it should go to the school again, so it did.”
It takes a special group of people to raise money so efficiently. In its second year, the brainchild of Curley worked wonders once again, thanks to motivated athletes and a charitable community.
“I just thought, ‘There has got to be a better way,’” Curley said. “The idea came to me. Kind of like a walkathon. In a walkathon, you walk 15, 20 miles with pledges per mile and you walk all day. This is like that, only more of a challenge with the hill.”
Curley reckons the challenging hill is the secret ingredient that cooked up such a successful fundraiser.
“We could have done it on a track or a straightaway, but 5-Mile Hill for this running community is a sort of epic milestone. Being able to do repeats on this hill is pretty significant.
“The community support through micropayments is the other aspect that makes it successful. People donate $3 or $10 per lap. Those small numbers add up. This is a small run club, but they raised $16,000 with the community involvement. Tell me anywhere that does it better. I think that community involvement just propels people to do more.
“We call out when there are five minutes left. If you are out on the hill you think, ‘If I can just finish one more lap, that’s $100 or $200 or $300 for the kids at the school.’ We have runners who do this hill once or twice a week and maybe do three or four laps. Today, there is that extra incentive to push a little bit harder and faster because of that understanding of the individual drive and community support.
“We have one runner who usually does just up the hill in 3:30. On their first lap today, they made it all the way up and back down the other side in 4:00. It’s just incredible.”
While organizers would prefer to stick with their 10 superstar runners and a low profile, the event will continue next year, this time for a new charity.
“Today, the top fundraiser gets to pick three charities they would like to support,” Tater said. “Those three will be voted on by the runners for next year. The thinking is that it will be a more local charity, but who knows.
“We had 10 runners last year and 10 this year. It isn’t a formal event with just 10 people according to the city, we don’t have to shut down any streets. It is just a super casual, fun way to raise a ton of money in 45 minutes.”