Kelly Cannon will take away a mountain of memories from this weekend’s inaugural “Run for the Dream” 8K run/walk race and half-marathon. But perhaps none will be as satisfying as what happened before dawn two weeks ago when Cannon and race officials were tracing the course for one of the events.
“We were walking the 8K course, finalizing the last details of turns and traffic,” Cannon ’05 explains. “We’re on Nassau Street, about to turn down Duke of Gloucester, when two women run by. One is a friend of mine.
“She yells out, ‘Kelly, we’re running your 8K! We’re training for the race!’ She had just started running and she was using the race as a way of getting into running and getting healthy. It was the nicest compliment you could imagine.”
Cannon’s friends won’t be the only people she recognizes in shorts and sneakers this weekend. More than a dozen family members are flocking here from out of town to participate in the event. One of Cannon’s aunts, never a competitive runner, has been training for several months.
Cannon has been hard at work in her role as race director for two years. It’s one of those thankless jobs where an incalculable number of things can go wrong, but the things that go right – the bands, the cool commemorative swag, the medals, the barbecue, the beer truck – are an expected part of the show.
“I’m all about the runner’s experience,” she says. “The race operations people, public-safety officials, management, they’re about the safety of the runners.”
Payoffs play a huge role in Cannon’s career. She works for “An Achievable Dream,” a public school program that supports socially disadvantaged students in Newport News. Annually, more than 1,250 kids are touched by the program, which has received a huge hands-on boost from active-duty soldiers at nearby Ft. Eustis.
Troops visit Achievable Dream Academy daily for two hours, teaching character development and serving as powerful role models. How powerful? Ninety-nine percent of the children they touch graduate on time. Ninety-five percent go to college; the rest enter the military.
“We have amazing kids, and I saw what a social-academic world curriculum could do for them,” said Cannon, who left William & Mary with a degree in government after a college career that included the vice-presidency of the student government, and time devoted to sexual-assault prevention and education.
The military will have a huge role in this weekend’s activities. In addition to An Achievable Dream, proceeds from the race will go to the Wounded Warriors program.
The warriors were an inspiration of sorts for the race coming into being. Three years ago, An Achievable Dream founder Walter Segaloff was watching the Marine Corps Marathon from the Virginia side of the Key Bridge in Arlington. He was moved emotionally by the intense effort the hand cyclists and push-wheelchair competitors put into finishing the course.
He brought back the idea for a race that would honor and support their cause as well as his own. The moons aligned when it turned out that the weekend after graduation – May 21-22 – was not only Armed Forces Day but one of the four lowest-tourism weekends of the year in Colonial Williamsburg.
That’s about to become a thing of the past. Two weeks before the race, more than 4,000 runners had registered, and 825 rooms had been booked just at Colonial Williamsburg hotels.
“We think we’ve hit it,” Cannon said. “This should have enormous economic impact on the area, and we are thrilled to be able to bring it here.”
The W&M campus will serve as a major staging ground for the event. Each race will start at the flagpole stand in front of Phi Beta Kappa Hall. Given the military theme of the weekend, that seemed appropriate.
Each race will conclude at the 50-yard line of Zable Stadium after the contestants run one lap around the track.
“One of our early ideas was to finish inside a stadium, just like they do at the Olympics,” Cannon said. “We’re adding a tent so it’s like they are running through a dark tunnel, as has been done at the Olympics. Zable is beautiful, and we wanted our runners to have the experience of finishing on the track there.”
And the after-race party will be held in the Sunken Garden.
Cannon has no prior experience orchestrating a race. Neither does anyone else at An Achievable Dream. But Segaloff was resolute that everything about his event be first class, and proved it by hiring 22-year veteran Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray and DSME Sports to serve here.
“They do 35 events a year, and they go all over the country,” Cannon said. “We are the only new event they are taking on this year, and they have taken us through the process step-by-step.”
Cannon hasn’t survived her first race weekend yet and already has begun planning for next year. She even has the date.
“This race is near and dear to my heart,” she says. “We’ve planned it well, we’ve put a lot of work into it, and it looks like it’s going to pay off.”