Over 300 runners attended the Cougars Unleashed Homecoming Run on Saturday, Sept. 25, which was held in person with a virtual option after being entirely virtual last year.
Nick Niemerg, assistant director of constituent relations, said planning for the Homecoming Run has been ongoing since July. He said accounting for social distancing was a little tricky, but it paid off.
“This is one of our first events in over a year and a half, and the crowd here has been fantastic. I don’t have the final numbers yet, but I will say that this is going to be the most financially successful event that we’ve had ever,” Niemerg said. “So we’re very happy about that.”
Cathy Taylor, director of constituent relations and special projects, said they’re excited to offer an in-person run this year.
“Last year because of the pandemic we went completely virtual, which was new for us, of course, but it gave us the opportunity to try the virtual format. This year we’re thrilled that we’re able to offer an in-person and virtual format, so we have over 300 runners participating,” Taylor said.
Andrew Ravanelli, president of the alumni association, said the virtual events allowed them to think outside the box and engage with more alumni that they normally wouldn’t have.
“Normally our in-person events are fairly restricted to people who are local, and doing more virtual things allowed us to reach a lot more people,” Ravanelli said. “So we’re excited to be able to offer the things for the local community again because most of our alumni are local, but now being able to do both in-person and virtual lets us reach as many alumni as we can.”
Ravanelli said turnout for the virtual events was more than expected, and that they did virtual happy hours in the beginning of the pandemic to keep people engaged with tutorials and demonstrations.
“We had a mixologist who was teaching mixed drinks. We hosted a couple of virtual happy hours where we had some cooking demonstrations, just to try to keep people engaged. That was especially early on in the pandemic when people were mostly isolated at home and feeling bored and disconnected,” Ravanelli said. “This year and last year, having a virtual Homecoming Run, we had a lot more participants than we maybe expected. A lot of people were choosing to do the run, they still wanted to participate, still wanted to submit their times … it was more than we expected.”
Ravanelli said setting up for race day involved recruiting volunteers and donations so that all of the proceeds go to scholarships for SIUE students.
“All of the money that we bring in for everything goes directly into our scholarship fund,” Ravanelli said. “We have Chris Cakes pancakes, and the race day coordination, we work with them to plan out the route. We work with the campus police to get security parameters set up to make it safe for our runners.”
Ravanelli said having a run at SIUE is an opportunity to bring people from the Edwardsville community on campus so they can be a part of the campus life.
“It continues to bring awareness to how awesome this campus is, how great the students are here, what a great opportunity this is for people in the community to be a part of,” Ravanelli said. “Every opportunity that we can bring the community on campus, and bring our students and alumni to engage with the community, only strengthens the relationship between SIUE and Edwardsville.”
Michael French, a junior computer science major from Danville, Illinois, said he spontaneously decided to participate in the race the day before at the request of a friend.
“This is my first 5k. I would run for fun all the time, but this is my first official race, so I’m feeling excited,” French said.
Sarah Watts, an SIUE graduate from Mattoon, Illinois, brought her young daughter in a stroller with her to continue the tradition of participating in the Homecoming Run.
“I’ve done it since I was an RA, so I came back to do the race again … [I’m feeling] antsy with her. I don’t know how she’s going to do. I thought I’d bring her back and have her do it,” Watts said.
Ravanelli said the most important thing is that they have missed seeing their alumni.
“We miss seeing students, we miss being able to be on campus, we miss being able to be in the community, and it’s been really hard,” Ravanelli said. “We’re excited to have really nice weather to do our homecoming events this year.”