I’ve never won a marathon. I’ve never run in the Olympics. But I admire the people who do win marathons and who do run in the Olympics. Heck, I admire the people who simply train for marathons.
I see in those people a passion for life, a push for individual excellence, an embodiment of the best in the human spirit. I aspire to be like them. Even if I cannot run in the Olympics, I want to be Olympic-like.
These are not just the idle daydreams of a Walter Mitty sports fan. I want to be Olympian in my parenting — I want to be a great father to my young children so that they can leave satisfying, healthy, and contributing lives. I want to be Olympian as a son, to be a great child to my aging parents. I want to be Olympian in all my efforts — to be great co-worker, a great citizen, a great volunteer in our community.
Why is this important? Well, in my little corner of the world, one of the corporate industry leaders has said that it is too expensive to care about greatness. They don’t care about supporting those who strive for excellence; they just want to make money.
Let me explain.
You may have heard about the national running series called Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. The idea is to have a local band play at every mile of the 26.2 mile marathon or every mile of the 13.1 mile half-marathon. As a runner, you get to race with 20,000 others on the same route that the top local, national, and international athletes race. Of course, it costs upwards of $150 to sign up for these races, but you do get a medal, a T-shirt and a story of doing a big city marathon with 20,000 other runners and walkers who spent their $150 bucks.
There are more than 80 Rock ’n’ Roll events throughout the country, including a Rock ’n’ Roll marathon in Phoenix in January. The numbers are important — 20,000 registrants times a $150 equals about $3 million per race, never-mind sponsorship and merchandising and so forth. Multiple three million bucks by 80 events and you have something like a $240 million entity.
The Rock ’n’ Roll series is currently part of the Competitor Group International (CGI), in the portfolio of a venture capital fund named Calera Capital.
Rock ’n’ Roll was a game-changer in the running industry, taking over untold local marathons, becoming a sort of Walmart of running, and creating a whole new category in venture capital funding.
The running and sports world was abuzz recently because CGI has stopped funding the local, national, and elite athlete program in North America, even, apparently, reneging on agreements for athletes scheduled to race in September and October. Apparently, the $450,000 annual line item that paid for travel, prize money, and the like for the top local, national, and international athletes is too much. CGI apparently would rather earn a greater profit than support the people who actually try to win the races that the company produces.
Why should you care, you ask? It’s just another manifestation of corporate selfishness. No big deal. We should be worrying about Syria instead.
Fair enough. But there are a couple of layers at play here. By cutting funding for local and national top runners, CGI is cutting opportunity and motivation for thousands of American local heroes. Each of the 80 races has a field of about 20 to 30 local heroes who train hard with little or no chance for professional glory. In a sport where there is little to no professional funding, any sort of financial help is valuable. A weekend’s free hotel, airfare, some prize money are the things that help regional and national elite runners.
For example, Tucson’s Gina Slaby qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials at a Rock ’n’ Roll, race that had about 50 Tucson runners. Without the elite support by CGI, perhaps that never happens. People like Gina are the standard bearers for the nonprofit running clubs in the country. If the largest race company says these local leaders are not worth spending money on, what message does that send?
It says that we don’t care about local athletes. It says we don’t care about competition — just give us your $150 and everyone gets a medal. This is already happening in the color runs and mud runs — just pay your money and get your muddy shirt. No need to worry about actually trying hard.
This is the same disastrous mentality ruining education: You can’t write? We don’t care, you still get a diploma. The same mentality some say causes the welfare state. No need to actually work, just pick up your medal on your way out the door . . .
Running is one of those endeavors that allows us to be Olympians — no matter your leg speed, you can set a goal and do something that you never thought possible. Those who make a profit from our entry fees have a moral obligation to help the best of us, to enable hardworking local standouts and international champions to seek true excellence.
What can we do about it?
I say, forget the mega races, run local. Sign up for races that support American running — just like with your shopping, run local, support local, and tell the selfish corporate entities to go take a hike.