39th Steve’s Run July 27
Credit the Boston Marathon for music becoming a major element of Steve’s Run.
Ron Gunn was running it when “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas floated out of a window 23 miles in and revived him.
Gunn told fellow Dowagiac Rotarians Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 that nobody has ever challenged his claim that forerunners of Steve’s Run constitute the first road and trail race in the United States.
Recognized as one of the 10 best vacation runs in the country, when it started in 1972, Gunn ran it “out of my hip pocket during the running boom.”
After a few years, Southwest Michigan College took it to the next level.
“The college thought it was a great thing, took it over and really took it to a high echelon,” Gunn said, of the July 27 event which takes place during Summer in the City in Dowagiac.
“This will be our 39th running and the 23rd year it’s been called Steve’s Run,” said Gunn of this year’s event.
“The first few years it was called the Road and Trail Race, the Bud Lite Run and the Nike-Fair Store Run. We had a two-year hiatus,” said Gunn, was dean of sports education at SMC after coaching Roadrunner cross-country teams to national acclaim.
Gunn worked with Steve Briegel, whose father, David, was SMC president.
“He was my statistician and announcer at our home basketball games. We became very close, so when he was diagnosed with cancer, I spent time with the family at the Mayo Clinic. Steve fought a very courageous battle, but lost. I went to Dave wanting to do something to honor Steve. He wanted it low-key, so we had a run at Indian Lake in his honor.”
The next year the Road and Trail Race was resurrected as Steve’s Run.
“A lot people did not know Steve, but everybody knows somebody touched by cancer and fought the same brave, determined battle,” Gun said. “Dave bought into that idea.”
The run is tough enough in the “dog days of July,” but it also offers that unusual combination of highways, a golf course— golfers pause and applaud — and the rugged trails with hay bales and log obstacles around the campus.
“Everybody has two 10K times — on a flat, curb-and-gutter kind of race and Steve’s course, which is 45 to 60 seconds slower,” Gunn said. “President David Mathews says this is probably the greatest collaborative effort between the community, college and county in terms of getting everybody together. We have more than 340 volunteers.”
As many as 1,400 runners participate each year.
When Gunn tried to imagine how Dowagiac could distinguish itself — “how could you beat running from the (College Football) Hall of Fame to Notre Dame or the Venetian Festival?” — he relied on “our No. 1 resource: people. We do a lot of things to make this a crackerjack race that everyone does, but we did them first. Music stirs the soul, like when you hear the band at a football game, so we added 12 music stations throughout the course,” although the singer by city hall belts out “God Bless America.”
It was originally “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but runners didn’t know whether to stop or sprint by.
“The way we start the race is also unique,” he said. “We don’t use a pistol. We have a moment of silence and ring a bell. It’s very peaceful. Another unique feature is our (stained glass) awards. We have a local artisan, Al Potter, who makes a different one every year. We give one to every five competitors, so some divisions get 15 awards. They’re very popular. My contribution, because I used to do Relay for Life a lot, with luminaria. When I coached I had (encouraging) signs all along the course. So we sell Fire Up signs for $5,” which Don Hall places them through Riverside Cemetery, where the race proceeds past Briegel’s grave.
All participants wear No. 1. Cancer survivors are saluted to “Stand By Me,” which is Gunn’s favorite part of the event except for the start.
“This race goes into a different dimension beyond a physical experience,” Gunn said. “The fire department (cools runners with spray), the hospital is there, the local food market has fruit.”
Rotarians work with Family Fare to give away $150 worth of Popsicles at the finish line in Lions Park.
Proceeds benefit cancer research and SMC’s scholarship fund.
Camille and David Briegel presented the 23rd annual $500 Steven Briegel Memorial Scholarship May 22 to Jenna File. Steve graduated fifth in the DUHS Class of 1986 and from SMC in 1988.
He golfed and played basketball for the Chieftains. A group of his classmates run in his memory. He died March 1, 1990, after a 5 1/2-year battle with cancer.