Runners from around Illinois and beyond are welcomed to Jacksonville every year during Memorial Day Weekend to celebrate and support a noble cause in Illinois, and the foundation supported this year is especially connected with the identity of long-distance running and the evolution of the sport.
The Passavant-Gatorade 5k and 10k races will be held Saturday, May 26th. The event will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Founder’s Lane, on the eastern side of the Passavant Area Hospital campus.
This year’s event beneficiary is the Central Illinois branch of Ainsley’s Angels, a non-for-profit organization started in the honor of a little girl who was diagnosed at the age of 4 with, and in 2016 passed away from, an extremely rare terminal illness that progressively causes complete paralysis. Seeing this as the perfect bonding opportunity for himself and his daughter, Ainsley’s father, a Major in the Marines, decided to push her in a specially-designed stroller with him as he ran marathons, and Ainsley instantly fell in love with the experience. Eventually, the entire family joined in for the races. Ainsley’s Angels was founded in 2011 and builds and collects a variety of “Chariots”, as they call them, for anyone who cannot physically run a race but wants to be included in the experience.
Rachel Antle is the Central Illinois Ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels. As a guest recently on WLDS’ AM Conversation, Antle spoke about how proceeds from this event will further spread Ainsley’s legacy.
“Our mission is to spread the word of inclusion through running. It allows those with limited mobility the opportunity to participate in a sport rather than just being on the sidelines. So we are a non-for-profit. We do different fundraisers. We do our own 5k. We hold a golf outing in the fall to then fund our race chairs. We have been able to purchase a trailer to haul all of our race chairs instead of in the back of all of our vehicles. But our big thing now is to get some of the nicer race chairs that then attach to bikes so we can do some of the biathlon stuff, maybe eventually triathlon events. But also be able to comp race fees for our runners. We have lots of runners that do twenty races in the summer with us.”
Kevin Eckhoff is the Communications Coordinator for Passavant Area Hospital, as well as the 5k and 10k Race Coordinator. Eckhoff joined the AM Conversation to describe the history and legacy of the races and how they serve as both good exercise and as an opportunity to travel to Jacksonville.
“We’ve been doing it for 26 years. Each year we seem to grow, 400 to 500 runners each year. It’s kind of a destination race for a lot of folks, especially on the Memorial Day weekend. We’ve got a lot of runners that actually come from out of state to visit relatives. I’ve looked at the registration list so far and we’ve got a guy from New York, a couple people from Indiana, Iowa, so they’re coming home to Jacksonville and they’re gonna race the weekend.”
Eckhoff says walking the course is fine, so long as the community gathers to support a worthy cause.
“We do 5k, 10k, and walkers, and we actually encourage walkers. That’s a good way to start running, is walking. That’s the way I started. Don’t feel embarrassed if you’re walking. We welcome walkers.
Pre-registration for the Passavant-Gatorade 5k and 10k is 20 dollars and comes with the guarantee of a t-shirt. Registration at the starting line is 25 dollars. Awards are given to the top male and female finishers, as well as the top three male and female finishers in fourteen age categories. To register in advance for this event, go to passavanthospital.com and click on the events tab. To learn more about Ainsley Rossiter and the legacy she and her family have established, visit ainsleysangels.org. To hear more about Ainsley’s Angels and the 5k and 10k races from Antle and Eckhoff, visit our newscasts section right here at WLDS.com