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Columbus scored major points during the weekend, thanks in large part to the city itself and an army of volunteers who went above and beyond any call of duty to provide a welcoming event to thousands of visitors and fellow residents.
The event, of course, was the first running of the Mill Race Marathon, and the turnout of an estimated 4,800 participants — far more than organizers originally anticipated — was clear evidence of its success.
But in many ways, the success goes beyond any statistical summary. Much of it had to do with community pride.
That clearly showed in the number of residents who volunteered for a huge assignment list of errands and responsibilities — distributing water cups at stations along the route, cleaning up litter, directing runners and walkers, answering questions of visitors, etc.
A significant number of those volunteers were employees of Cummins Inc., the main sponsor of the event, but there were also scores of local residents who had responded to calls for assistance. All the volunteers gave participants and spectators the sense that they were special guests in the city.
Beyond the running event, the city also put out an inclusive welcome mat through the Finish on Fourth party centered on the downtown entertainment district. The event gave attendees the opportunity to sample local cuisine, try out such unusual downtown activities as a one-block zip line and mingle with fellow runners and spectators. Putting together the party was a mammoth undertaking, and organizers went the extra mile in making it an event to remember.
The whole weekend required an enormous amount of collaboration involving both the public and private sectors. Planning resembled that of a D-Day-style operation, and execution mirrored everything that had been anticipated.
That collaboration was reflected upon in comments by Columbus resident Brent Banister, a former patrolman with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deptartment for 15 years and firefighter with the Columbus Township Fire Department for 2½ years. “Having an extensive background in public safety I was VERY impressed with how well all agencies came together to keep everyone safe, yet they balanced their presence so that the event did not feel overshadowed by ‘safety and security’ ... it was just fun, and it was comforting to know that if something went wrong, the right people were there to ‘do what they do best’ and take care of the emergency.”
That planning and execution yielded benefits that will be remembered by those who participated for years to come. It required sacrifice and patience by many, including those motorists who had to rearrange their trip plans, but the closing or narrowing of city streets allowed for a safe running of the event and a showcasing of the city’s assets.
Probably the most significant of those showcased elements was the Robert N. Stewart Bridge, which runners and walkers were able to cross on foot, giving them a long and memorable perspective of the entry to Columbus’ downtown.
The benefits are both immediate and far-reaching. The number of visitors from outside Bartholomew County — seven other countries and 34 other states were represented — became a pool of potential returnees. One downtown merchant reported that over the weekend he encountered on separate occasions three individuals, each of them offering unsolicited and enthusiastic exclamations of surprise that such a community had so many attractions.
Finally, there is an internal benefit to this event that bodes well for the future. More than 1,000 children registered to participate in the Fun Run on the eve of the race itself. It is not so much the number that was so inspiring but the enthusiasm the young people demonstrated.
That’s a spirit that should always be sustained in future marathons. The benefits speak for themselves.
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