Bryan Lambert can vividly remember the Seaway Runs of his youth—the competing with friends and family, pouring over the race photos and times in Sunday’s newspaper, how it flooded the streets with runners and spectators alike.
It’s an event that Lambert, now the director of the Seaway Run, explains has for nearly four decades filled Muskegon with racers who are dedicated to their community—to its people, its vibrancy, its health. Drawing a crowd as diverse as the city neighborhoods the runners traverse for the race, the event in recent years has annually raised about $50,000 for health and wellness initiatives run by the Muskegon YMCA and the Muskegon Rotary Club.
Which is why, when Covid-19 struck and race organizers watched as summer events across the country were canceled, they were deeply worried. The run obviously couldn’t operate as it always had, with a crowd of thousands of people making their way throughout the city. Would the Seaway Run have to hit pause going into its 39th year?
In short: no. But the organizers had to make some big changes for the event that launches next Saturday, June 27.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Lambert says. “The finish line to this just kept changing. We were going to make a decision [as to whether or not to cancel] or April 1. Then it was April 15. Everything around us kept being canceled. The uniqueness of this event is we can hold a virtual race.”
And so, from June 27 through July 4, hundreds of people from Muskegon to California and Connecticut will engage in a week-long virtual race—meaning participants will, on their own, run for the distances they signed up for, including the 5K, 10K and half marathon. For those who would rather not run, individuals and families can sign up for the community walk.
About 675 people have committed to this year’s event so far, and there’s still time to sign up. For those who still need to register, you can do so by clicking here before Monday, June 22.
“We didn’t have any expectations for this year, but to have a third [of the runners] we normally have is a huge victory for something of this size,” Lambert says. “People are excited to have something to look forward to.”
In order to put on this year’s event, the organizers have been able to retain 100 percent of its sponsors—including the largest backer of the Seaway Run, Mercy Health.
“It’s amazing what our sponsors have committed to despite” the difficulties with Covid-19, Lambert says.
Much of that support stems from the fact that the event not only provides a chance for the community to feel connected to one another at a time of isolation, but raises needed funds for the Muskegon YMCA and the Muskegon Rotary Club, the race director explains. The raised funds will go to a variety of health and wellness initiatives run by the Muskegon YMCA and the Muskegon Rotary Club, including the YMCA’s programs tackling diabetes, childhood obesity, nutrition education, water safety, and cancer survivor fitness. They too will help to support the Rotary’s “Healthy Muskegon County” initiative, which formed as a response to Muskegon County’s poor health ranking. [In 2012, Muskgon ranked as the state’s unhealthiest county; in 2019, it had moved up to being listed as the 75th healthiest county, out of 83 counties in Michigan.]
And while the race is tackling serious health issues, it’s also providing some much-needed levity and cohesion at a time of significant struggle: residents have fallen ill and died because of Covid-19; many in Muskegon have faced furloughs and layoffs; businesses have had to temporarily—and permanently—shutter. It remains a time of deep uncertainty and worry. But, for one week, individuals will be inspired to leave their homes for their community—and they’ll be able to run (and walk) in the hopes that, next year, life will be different.
“Our 40th year is going to be much better, hopefully, if we can overcome the obstacle of Covid,” Lambert says.
As for now, the race director explains, there are still reasons to be hopeful—including the fact that more than 675 people are heading to the streets for change in our community. At Pigeon Hill, which is providing each Seaway Run participant with a free beverage (well, those who are 21 and over), there are countless reasons to raise a glass in toast—to the cancer survivors who have completed their races, to a city committed to helping one another, to a Muskegon that is, once again, finding its wings amid the struggle.
The Seaway Run will take place from Saturday, June 27 through Saturday, July 4. Participants may sign up for the 5K, 10K, half marathon, or community walk events. To register and for more information, please click here.