Ben Rosario understands the importance of group efforts. Before returning to his hometown of St. Louis in 2006 to open the first of three Big River Running Company stores, the former D2 All-American from Truman State College ran professionally for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in suburban Detroit. Off his Hanson’s training in Michigan Ben qualfied for the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, then finished second at the 2005 U.S. Marathon Championships at the Twin Cities Marathon. Today, Rosario announced that he and his Big River Running Company partner Matt Helbig are joining the “Dollar for Distance Development” pledge for their June 1st Big River Festival of Miles presented by Under Armour.
“We believe in the sport,” said Rosario who, it was also announced today, will direct the 2012 & 2013 U.S. National Cross Country Championships in St. Louis’ Forest Park. “And we believe in the sport’s potential to grow. Our Festival of Miles Foundation gives funds to athletes in need, so we will pledge $500 from our foundation and another $500 from our three stores. This is exactly the kind of program that people can do across the country, and help move the sport forward.”
Rosario and Helbig began the Festival of Miles in April of 2008 to raise money for a young St. Louis University woman who had been injured in a car accident on New Year’s Eve. They hadn’t expected to make it anything more than a one-year deal, but when Mike Rathmann, a former All-State high jumper from Ben’s alma mater, St. Louis U. High, was paralyzed in a freak lake-side accident the following summer, he decided to stage the Festival again to assist in Mike’s medical expenses. After year two there was no turning back.
“We get a thousand fans to fill the stands,”said Rosario. “It’s a sell out, and we only charge $5. But we encourage everyone to pay more, because the entire gate goes to the cause.”
In 2009 Olympian Leo Manzano came to town and posted a 3:55.29 which remains the Festival meet record. Last year Andy McClary ran 3:58.16 to nip Saucony’s Tommy Schmitz’ 3:58.40 in the pro mile. Local high school star Emily Sisson won the women’s mile in 4:48.20.
Besides prize money to the top three finishers, there is a $1000 bonus for a sub-4:00 mile, and an additional $1k for breaking Manzano’s meet record. Also, Big River is putting up an extra grand for any woman dropping under 2:00 in the 800m. The Big River Festival of Miles is actually a series of nine separate races contested on the St. Louis U. High track, beginning with a Healthy Kids Mile.
“We follow with junior high school miles, a master’s mile, two high school All-Star miles, an elite women’s 800, and then the pro men’s mile. We also added a corporate relay this year, 4 X 100 meters for local businesses which should be fun.”
While the aim of the Festival of Miles was originally philanthropic, today Rosario and Helbig hope that their efforts can help provide much needed media attention to their sport, as well.
“Runners are starved for information. Here it is a week and a half out from the Boston Marathon and there are no articles about it anywhere. When VCU went to the NCAA basketball tournament, you saw 20 stories about them in three days. We have all these participant runners, but we give them so little information about the top competition. And we live in a star-driven country. There are all these ridiculous tabloids and TV shows promoting these Hollywood stars. So when our fields fill we put pictures and bios up on our website so people will know who is running.”
The Big River Festival of Miles joins events in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Arizona in taking the Dollar for Distance Development pledge (tagline courtesy of Frank Field at therunnersvibe.com). Strands Fitness in Corvalis, Oregon has also pledged to match each $1.00 contribution made through their on-line registration portal Strands Event Registration.