Mayor Mark Mathews said the race is especially meaningful as it benefits the Kennesaw Dream Foundation, an organization whose mission is to help and support young people in the community.
“Councilmember Bill Thrash, who lost his battle with cancer at this time last year, was the driving force behind this foundation, and we honor his memory through this race,” Mathews said.
Fit City Kennesaw, a city initiative launched in 2012 to target obesity and improve the health of residents, came from the passion of Assistant City Manager Jeff Drobney and Welsh, who is a chiropractor. The Kennesaw Grand Prix 5K race series, which is among its programs, includes six events, each benefitting a city-supported or affiliated group.
The program’s first goal, Welsh said, is to get the Kennesaw community active. The second goal is to act as a model for developing public and private partnerships that benefit the community.
To respond to what she called resident “rumblings” over what the Fit City Kennesaw races actually cost taxpayers, Welsh said she discovered the races put money into the city.
“We’re covering our own costs and putting money into the city, which has never been done before,” Welsh said. “Our races have not cost taxpayers money, but put $250,000 back into city foundations and local charities.”
At the time the program started, the economy was changing and the city was losing tax dollars.
“We wanted to create something in the city, by the city and for the city,” Welsh said.
The 20 races since 2009 have grossed nearly $500,000, and all the funding for the races comes from sponsors and the $25 runner entry fee, which includes a T-shirt, she said.
In 2009, Welsh contacted Kennesaw First Baptist Church on Main Street because it was on the Mother’s Day race route. When she asked the church to push its Sunday service back an hour, her request was met with “What are you thinking?” looks, she said.
But instead of total rejection, church community leaders ultimately offered assistance with the community event.
“They said, ‘No, but if you’ll move it to Saturday, we’ll give you 100 volunteers to help,’” Welsh said. “They’re now our home base and it all started from that one conversation.”
In 2010, Drobney, who is an avid runner, designed a USA Track and Field certified “fast and flat” course, Welsh said, to encourage more runners to enter. The previous year’s course had hills, which made it a tougher race for many participants, she said. The course Drobney designed starts at Kennesaw First Baptist Church, winds its way through Swift-Cantrell Park and ends with a quarter-mile downhill run in the middle of downtown Kennesaw.
This route became the standardized race course for what would eventually become the Kennesaw Grand Prix Series, Welsh said.
“People are getting involved who hadn’t been involved before,” Welsh said. “People want to get involved and if you give them an avenue, they will. It doesn’t have to cost money.”
Since 2011, the Kennesaw Grand Prix Series has developed into the premier 5K race series in Cobb County and north Georgia, Welsh said.
“By building relationships and partnerships with local businesses and corporations, the city has been able to develop and offer great programs with minimal expense,” Welsh said.
The city’s success drew the attention of the White House in 2013, when both Drobney and Welsh were invited there after being recognized in first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program. Drobney and Welsh attended the celebration of their efforts with 40 other community leaders, Welsh said.
The next race, the Faith Cline Elf Trot, is planned for July 12. The race was moved from Christmas season to July to honor its namesake, who died in 2012, and raise money for the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, Welsh said.
“One of Faith’s goals was to graduate high school,” Welsh said of the Kennesaw Mountain High School student who was diagnosed at age 15 with an inoperable brain tumor. By age 17, she created a bucket list that included graduating.
“The school held a special graduation for her because they knew, though she earned her credits, she wouldn’t make it to graduation,” Welsh said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Want to go?
What: Dream Dash race
Where: Registration onsite at Kennesaw First Baptist Church on Main Street
7:30 a.m.: 1 Mile Fun Run
8:00 a.m.: 5k
8:55 a.m.: Tot Trot downtown
9:15 a.m.: Awards ceremony at the pedestrian plaza in downtown
Remaining race schedule:
July 12: Elf Trot
Aug. 2: Run for Wounded Heroes
Sept. 6: Great Locomotive Chase
Nov. 1: Garden Gallop
In-store registration available at Big Peach Running Co., Kennesaw and Marietta locations or online at Active.com