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Arts & Life

What It's Like To Run An Overland Park 5K During A Pandemic

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Anne Kniggendorf
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KCUR 89.3
(From left) Enid Crawford, Penny Terwelp, and Sharon Johnson ran the Diva Dash 5K on Saturday, July 18.

Races across town have been canceled due to the spread of coronavirus, but the Diva Dash went ahead on Saturday, with a fraction of its usual participants.

The Diva Dash just wrapped its ninth annual race in Overland Park on Saturday. While dozens of other races around town were called off, the women-only 5K organized by KC Running Company was not.

Normally a shoulder-to-shoulder sea of women and girls in pinks, purples, and peach floating on gauzy tutus and topped by tiaras, the race was more of a subdued trickling creek this year.

Overland Park Communications Manager Sean Reilly said the city began issuing permits for large gatherings on June 22 in accordance with the state’s Ad Astra plan.

“We issue permits, but it’s up to the organizations to comply,” he said.

Diva Dash organizer Brad Ziegler wouldn’t agree to an interview, except to say that registration was half of what it has been in other years. The page’s race results tab showed that this year, 243 people participated compared to 781 last year.

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Anne Kniggendorf
Orange cones signaled appropriate spacing for Diva Dash participants at the starting line.

Brad McCleary operates Bodies Race Company, a rival race company headquartered in Greenwood, Missouri, and franchised in 23 cities. He’s cancelled most of this year’s 400 races for lack of permits.

He said that during the few remaining events that took place in June and July in Austin, Omaha, Kansas City, and Indianapolis, he saw only a fraction of registered participants show up.

“I think a lot of people are still just kind of scared,” McCleary said. “I don’t know if it’s the increase in cases or the frenzied media or if they don’t want to go through the new stuff. Some people are just frustrated by wearing masks.”

The runners who did show up seemed to appreciate the low turnout.

Diva Dash runner Bailey Berry said, “Everybody’s going to be pretty conscious of each other and everything that’s going on, so people probably won’t crowd around a group they didn’t come with and will be really respectful in that manner.”

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Anne Kniggendorf
The Diva Dash race route was not crowded for the 2020 event.

The majority of Diva Dash participants wore masks as they milled around the parking lot waiting for the event to begin early Saturday morning, but masks came off at the blast of the air horn.

KC Running Company set up orange cones toward the front of the race to distance participants, and an announcer advanced runners and walkers in small groups at about one-minute intervals. As in other years, racers grouped themselves by speed, with faster runners at the start and walkers bringing up the rear.

Other changes to the race included small bottles of water along the course rather than paper cups of water volunteers usually hand to runners as they pass. After-race snacks and medals were bagged and ready for finishers rather than spread out on several tables.

“I think that the protocols they have in place at the moment, that’s one of the reasons I signed up. When I got the email and it said what they’re doing for everyone, I felt fine,” runner Rebecca Mita said. “It makes me feel better not starting in a horde.”

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Anne Kniggendorf
(From left) Ariel Spellmeyer and Danielle Baldwin participate in the Diva Dash every year. This is daughter Luna Baldwin's first year in the Lil Princess Fun Run.

The Diva Dash was scheduled in six other cities this year, but the event’s Facebook page lists cancellations in Little Rock, Des Moines, and St. Louis because organizers were unable to obtain permits from the cities or the staging sites.

McCleary said the race business depends on obtaining those permits, but permitting depends on the sizes of groups that are allowed to gather.

“From everything that I’ve seen personally, if we’re outside and we’re able to spread out — since we’re so touchless, it seems to be a lot safer than going to the grocery store or church, which are both allowed,” he said.

Enid Crawford, Penny Terwelp, and Sharon Johnson are race-day buddies; they only know each other through 5Ks. They said that the Diva Dash was not the first 5K to happen this summer. One or all of them had already run the Father’s Day 5K at the downtown airport, McCleary’s Hero Hustle in Riverside, the Stars and Stripes 5K in Overland Park, and a trail run in Lawrence.

Before the start, Crawford said she would most likely run without a mask. “I’ll look and see how many people I’m starting with and how comfortable I feel and kind of make a judgement call.”

Moving forward through the rest of the summer and fall, runners like Crawford and organizers like McCleary said they will do as many races as they’re allowed.

He said, “We have a commitment to do it safely and responsibly, but we’re going to try and always have live events because our mission is to make a healthy impact in our community.”

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