Organizers of the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run and Walk hope to raise $30,000 for charity.

Courtesy of Kerry Whelan 2016

In the past six years, Randy Accetta and a group of supporters have transformed the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown into a trifecta for Tucson.

“I am a fan of Aristotle, who believed that healthy minds and healthy bodies create healthy citizenry. If I can do my part to make people healthier through fitness and raise funds in support of cultural, educational and social organizations, then I think I am making our city better,” said Accetta, director of the three-race event that will kick off with the 11th Annual TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run and Walk this Saturday at the Children’s Museum Tucson, 200 S. Sixth Ave.

Created to commemorate native Tucsonan Gabe Zimmerman, a lifelong runner and avid outdoorsman who was killed in the shooting of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, the races have raised more than $150,000 for Child and Family Resources and other local charities.

Proceeds from the 2017 event will benefit the Children’s Museum Tucson, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Educational Enrichment Foundation, Living Streets Alliance, Greater Tucson Leadership, Southern Arizona Roadrunners, Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists and Beyond-Tucson Foundation, which was founded by Zimmerman’s father, Ross, as a single day of health-related outdoor activities designed to help the community move forward and heal after the shooting. That day has expanded into a year-round, commitment to individual and community wellness through the foundation and a coalition of partners including hospitals, health organizations, environmental advocacy groups and others.

Accetta said the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown segues perfectly with the foundation’s “Rx Formula” for optimal health, which is comprised of four pillars — explore nature, move regularly, nourish with healthy food and connect with one another as a community.

He emphasized that the intent was to provide a full calendar year of opportunity for progressive physical activity through the race series, beginning with a 5K and building to a 10K and then a half-marathon.

“Any number of medical experts will tell you that if you move for 10 minutes a day, you will have a healthier life, whether you just walk around the block or run a race,” Accetta said. “Races like this are great since setting a goal to go one mile can get you out the door when you don’t want to go. We want people to set a goal and be a part of something and change their lives and meet new people and go to new places. By walking or running, you can do all of that.”

In an additional effort to facilitate consistent activity and encourage community engagement, the foundation has instituted Beyond Challenge, which provides a card featuring incentives, discounts and prizes from merchants.

“This is about setting an intention, whether it be to spend more time with your kids outdoors or to complete a 5K or make healthy changes to your diet,” said Michelle Crow, director of the Beyond-Tucson Foundation. “You can sign up for the challenge and participate in various activities to win prizes, so it is a concrete way to help people achieve their goals.”

More information about Beyond Challenge and other free foundation health initiatives — including a 16-week walking study by Dequenesh Community Health that will begin Aug. 31 — is available from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday through September at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, 100 S. Avenida del Convento.

“We are doing controlled studies in terms not just of physical health, but mental health and social well-being since each affects the other,” Crow said.

The social element is at the forefront of the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run and Walk, which welcomes runners and walkers of all ages and abilities, according to Ross Zimmerman.

Festivities include live music, a food truck roundup, a beer garden and children’s activities .

“This is a huge party and the social engagement component is bigger than any other run that I am aware of around Tucson,” Ross Zimmerman said. “To Randy’s credit, he has done a great job of attracting people to come out and do the course who might not otherwise come.

“It is one thing to preach to the choir and get the usual suspects, but it is another to get other people to come out and encourage them to change their behavior and their lives by doing something like this. He has turned it into a festival instead of just a run and I am hopeful that people enjoy the experience enough that they keep doing it.”

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net