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Published on May 19, 2020

Jackie Haggar Tuschen doing warmups

Avera Race Goes Virtual for 2020

Event organizers facing the facts of pandemic this spring know too well how restrictions and safety can lead to cancelations and postponements. The team preparing for the 2020 Avera Race Against Cancer was only six weeks out from its event when it gathered to make final decisions on how to proceed.

“It was a hard decision to face, and when our committee considered the idea of doing it as a virtual event, everything clicked,” said Avera McKennan Foundation Director Reid Jensen. “We went into high gear and worked on ideas. We realized that the cancer care teams the event supports were still helping patients, and we were going to do the same. Thanks to some amazing help from sponsors, partners and to the almost 4,000 people who took part May 9 – it was an amazing success. The heart and soul of the event was still there, even if the physical gathering was not.”

Moving to Virtual

Avera McKennan Foundation leaders partnered with a number of contributors as they reinvented the Race. Partners and sponsors remained engaged and as a team, all sought ways to engage runners who were going to run the event, just not in Sioux Falls as planned.

“We knew we wanted to continue the Race – we just didn’t know how to do it,” said Elijah Bonde, Race co-coordinator and annual giving event coordinator with the Avera McKennan Foundation. “So many partners helped. Jackie Haggar-Tuschen, the director of Avera McKennan Fitness Center was her usual upbeat self, and she helped lead things. We had to take our Plan B and make it as good as possible.”

One idea lead to another, and the team decided to host runners and supporters of the runners on social media. With a slew of sponsorships staying in place, the Race committee got the word out widely, letting everyone know the Race would go on.

The move to “virtual” may have helped gather people who in the past were not participating. They could run, walk or cheer on those who did so, all safely with proper physical distancing from others.

“The day of the event, more than 100,000 people engaged with our social media posts and videos,” Bonde said. “Supporters were chiming in and commenting from across the region and really from around the world. We’re still receiving donations.”

Jensen said people took part in the Race virtually in more than 34 states. Two participants took part in Australia. As of May 14, 3,776 individuals and a total of 173 teams had already taken part. Among them were 437 cancer survivors.

Beyond Online

For the new incarnation to work, it’d take plenty of promotion, and not just on Facebook and Instagram.

“We had great weather and we happy to host the Sioux Falls Mustang Club who did a pre-event cruise to raise awareness, which was a great help,” Jensen said. “Our volunteers were great, putting out lawn signs, and taking steps that were beyond what we normally do for the Race. All those little pieces added up to the success.”

The new nature of the event was, as Bonde said, a chance to “make lemonade” in the face of the obstacles. The teamwork led to success.

“It was really a great opportunity to expand beyond Sioux Falls with the virtual approach, and in the end, it worked,” said Jeremy Brech, owner of Jer Events, which has been a part of the Avera Race for more than eight years. “We created a lot of buzz – the energy level was really noticeable.”

Brech and Haggar-Tuschen did their traditional motivation warm-up piece online before the event, and the mentions and comments flooded the event’s timeline.

“We worked on the interactivity, the audio, the bandwidth – all of those parts had to be done in advance so the day of it’d go smoothly and really help connect everyone,” Brech said. “Seeing it happen that day was really emotional – it was so well-received. Now we see what we can do with virtual events, so we can possibly include a virtual element in the future.”

With donations and support continuing in May, Jensen said Avera Race supporters can still “take part” or contribute. “We look forward to sharing the fundraising total raised sometime in June,” he said.

You can learn more about that at AveraRaceSiouxFalls.org.

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