- Maddie LaKind / Daily
BY ALLIE WHITE
For the Daily
Published October 4, 2009
Though the Wolverines fell to the Spartans in Saturday’s football game, fans were able to put aside their differences for the Big House Big Heart race Sunday morning. Participants wearing maize and blue ran alongside those in green and white. Even Buckeye supporters were spotted in the mix.
Close to 10,000 participants headed to the Big House as early as 6:30 a.m. to take part in the third annual charity run, choosing either a 10K, 5K or 1-mile race route through campus.
The event, which raised $300,000 last year, benefits Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis research at the University through C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery and the Cardiovascular Center at University Hospital.
The race has been held since 2007 in memory of an Ann Arbor-area lawyer who died from ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease — a fatal disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system.
Andrea Highfield, event organizer and co-founder, said she and her husband decided to organize the race after his law partner, Phil Bowen, was diagnosed with ALS.
“We decided we wanted to do something to help, and so we went to the program for neurology here at the University of Michigan and said ‘we really want to support you,’” she said.
For the past three years, the Athletic Department has offered the Big House for the start and finish of the race. Runners leave from Gate 9 on the concourse and conclude with a dash through the stadium’s tunnel and across a finish line on the 50-yard line. A live video feed broadcasts the finish line on the jumbo screens in the stadium.
Business graduate student Carrie Frost, who participated in the race for the first time this year, said running through the tunnel was “the coolest thing.”
“There’s nothing quite like running through the tunnel with the (fight song) playing,” she said. “It was quite exhilarating.”
Children, students and adults flocked to the stadium to run, volunteer and offer support. Varsity athletes, clad in maize and blue, stood on the field handing out donated pizza, bagels and water to runners at the finish line.
Nearly all of the University’s varsity teams participated in the event in some way, Highfield said.
A portion of the fee each participant paid to compete in the race was divided between the three University Hospital programs, but participants were also encouraged to raise additional money to donate to non-profit organizations of their choice.
Kinesiology junior Charlie Mouch, a member of the Michigan Running Club, said for the past two years the club has partnered with myTEAM TRIUMPH — a nonprofit that provides equipment for people with disabilities to participate in endurance races.
Mouch said the handicapped individuals the Michigan Running Club partners with become “captains” of the club’s Big House Big Heart team.
“It’s fantastic, it’s so much fun. All our captains just have an awesome time, and the running club members as well,” he said. “We’re running as a team, you know, running with these kids.”
Though many of the participants raced for fun or to support a good cause, some had more personal stories.
Sarah McConnell, a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at University Hospital, ran the 5K wearing a shirt that read “Ella’s Team.”
“One of our co-workers had a baby with a congenital heart defect,” she said. “She actually ended up passing away in the last month, so we’re here in memory of Ella.”
University President Mary Sue Coleman walked the 10K with her husband to show her support for the cause. She also presented awards to the top finishers in each race.
“It’s grown in ways, where the president is promoting it, where the University is getting involved,” Highfield said. “We want to have it grow because eventually we’d like to raise $1 million every year.”
To expand the project, the race committee plans to organize similar events at rival schools the University of Michigan can compete with to raise the most money. With the help of the Highfields, Michigan State University will hold its first version of the race this May.
While Highfield said the amount of money raised this year remains unclear, the race was still a great success, noting monumental growth in participants from 5,000 in the race’s first year to almost double that this year.
All of that was despite the fact that runners, walkers and wheelers of all ages came out in full force for this year’s race facing menacing grey skies and the ever-present chance of rain.
“On a day like today, with it being so cold, it just surprises me that people are so psyched up and excited,” Highfield said.