There are few things I’ve ever seen that rival the pure joy of a little kid running. You’ve seen it: Their eyes lighted up, chest thrown forward, laughing, likely weaving all over the place, their hands trailing their bodies as if they might take off flying at any moment. If you close your eyes and picture it, you may even feel the flutter of the same butterflies that running kid in your mind feels. Those kids aren’t running for a medal or a finishing time, a personal best or even the finish line. They are running because it feels great.
It’s been a long time since running felt like that for me. There have been periods of my life I have enjoyed, but that exuberant love of every step was lost to me years ago. But Saturday — it found me again.
Those of you that have lived in north Denver a while have likely heard of The Mile High 5. Started in 2011 by parents at Brown Elementary, it was created to bring the community together, celebrate the joy of physical activity, and foster ties between the local elementary schools. It was wildly successful in all of its aims. In schools whose students needed shoes to run in, sponsorship by local businesses meant shoes could be purchased and distributed. For kids who wanted to be in on the day but not run, there were t-shirt tie-dying stations and hula hooping. If mom wanted to get out for a pre-marathon training run, they signed up for the 5 miler, and I always had plenty of company walking the 5K route. For the littlest runners, there was an enthusiastic crew of bigger kids ready to be sure they knew what to do when the gun went off and to hang that plastic gold medal around their neck at the finish line of the 5000 foot race. There was laughter, friendly competition, team spirit and most of all — Community.
In 2017 one of the event’s biggest fans, 12-year-old Cooper Demming, was battling a brain tumor. Many of his friends had been participating in the Mile High 5 with their families from the start, so it seemed a natural fit to honor him with that event. Participants raised almost $9,000 which was donated to two organizations that Cooper and his family chose in honor of their work with kids like him. While he wasn’t able to attend the event, we knew that he could hear the cowbell and his friends cheering on the littles at the finish line rising up through the neighborhood. Cooper died just a few days later. The next year, the Mile High 5 served as a way for Cooper’s friends to channel their grief into action as they raised another $9000 which they donated to the Morgan Adams Foundation to support their work in funding Pediatric Cancer Research.
This year and last, Team Mile High 5 has taken a break from throwing their own race to run the Morgan Adams Foundation’s Petri Dish. Virtually in 2020, and this past weekend in person back at the site of the original Mile High 5, Sloan’s Lake Park. Maybe you heard the cowbell???
And that is where it happened.
Walking along the race route with a couple of other original Mile High 5ers, I spotted two little girls running — hair flying, faces beaming, laughter echoing in the sunshiny summer day. And I could feel it. Overwhelming joy. And so much gratitude for this community that has supported events like the Mile High 5 for so many years. Not just for fundraising or medals or finishing lines, but to be reminded that whether we are walking, rolling, running, hopping, crawling, skipping, jumping, or cheering the runners on, we are doing these things together, and that is what community is all about.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email email@example.com.