Creating a healthier community in the face of tremendous challenges - all while celebrating the 40th anniversary of a special road race. The Crim Fitness Foundation, a longtime Running USA member, is an inspiring story of community-based programming success.
Flint, Michigan has had more than its 15 minutes in the national spotlight – and usually not for desirable reasons.
First there was Michael Moore’s 1989 film “Roger and Me,” about General Motors CEO Roger Smith and the shuttering of Michigan auto plants. The movie put Moore and Flint on the map – and Flint became synonymous with the collapse of the American auto industry.
Then there was the water crisis. Still ongoing, the problem began in 2015 when officials switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, applied the wrong treatment standards for consumable water, resulting in toxic corroded pipes.
But there is good stuff happening in Flint, it just might not make the front page or the evening news. The Crim Fitness Foundation, a longtime Running USA member, is an inspiring story of community-based programming success.
You’ve probably heard of the Crim 10 miler, a famous Michigan road race started in 1977 by Michigan House Speaker Bobby Crim. In its first two decades, the race attracted some of the nation’s fastest road runners.
Last August, “the Crim,” as it has become widely known, celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was the perfect time to reflect on how much the organization has changed and shaped Flint as a community. But in the midst of planning for the big event, the water crisis escalated from a local story to national news.
The race organization team took it all in stride.
“The Crim doubled down on Flint last year, and really wanted to show everyone that we are here for our community. Crim race day is such a positive, special day for the city and because of that people were able to unite and show their support by coming downtown and participating in the festival,” said Joe Dimambro, Assistant Race Director.
In Crisis, Focus on Community
With the news media focusing the spotlight on dirty water and sick families, the Crim Fitness Foundation sought to engage the community on a more positive note.
“Our promotion and marketing for last year's race switched from an anniversary mindset to a focus on Flint. We wanted to be able to say that Crim day was the city's finest hour and we were able to unite as a community to overcome this terrible tragedy,” Dimambro said.
Instead of offering prize money for top finishers, race organizers decided to put those funds towards 2,000 free race entries for Flint residents, putting the focus on community rather than competition.
It was a way of giving back to the community that has supported the event and the Fitness Foundation consistently for so many years.
“In order for the Crim to fully celebrate our milestone anniversaries, we need a consistently dedicated number of participants, and we understand how important it is to shine the spotlight on some of our most dedicated participants. By showing our appreciation for them, it helped make our 40th anniversary a celebration for the entire community,” said Andy Younger, Crim Race Director.
Another important focus, especially given the issue at hand, was to ensure clean water for the tens of thousands of runners, spectators, volunteers and community partners who would be involved in the big day.
“The first thing we did was to find a way to ensure clean water for all our participants on the course. We were able to do this thanks to a major contribution from Absopure,” Dimambro said. The regional water supplier donated 8,500 gallons of bottled water to the race for use on the course. Previously, water for runners had come from the city’s fire hydrants.
“We had a large amount of support from our partners and sponsors, many of whom stepped up their support,” Dimambro noted. In the past, Absopure had supplied water for the start and finish lines, as well as the race day festival.
Marketing of the event also took on a community focus. An inspiring video from local hip hop artist Mama Sol centered around the theme “I Crim for Flint” and featured scenes of the city as well as moments right out of the Fitness Foundation’s weekly schedule – like a yoga class the young runner passes by.
Year Round Fitness Programming
As many major endurance events have discovered, race day may be the biggest day of the year, but it takes a year round effort to truly engage and improve the fitness of a community.
The Crim Fitness Foundation has developed programming to encourage the residents of Flint and Genesee County to “lead healthy lifestyles by integrating physical activity, healthy eating, and mindfulness into their daily lives.”
“The Crim Fitness Foundation has been providing programming in physical activity and nutrition for the youth of Flint for years,” Dimambro said.
Walking and running clubs, intramural sports, nutrition education, parent education and community gardens are all part of the programming, which touches the lives of thousands of Crim students and parents each year. Powered by a small army of AmeriCorps members and community volunteers, Flint schools are the location for almost all of the programming.
According to the Fitness Foundation, Flint Community Schools were open for a total of an additional 4,180 hours annually for community use outside of the normal school day. Sports programs and other activities provide a safe space to spend time after school while parents may still be at work.
Demonstrating how serious they are about combatting the environmental issues Flint faces, the Fitness Foundation has researched the impact of lead exposure, including from contaminated drinking water.
“We discovered that the best method of mitigating lead exposure requires a combination of physical activity, proper nutrition, and a focus on certain brain functions and behavioral intervention,” Dimambro said.
“Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness helps strengthen the synapses in the brain's prefrontal cortex and also helps behavioral issues such as ADD and ADHD. Lead exposure directly affects this same part of the brain and can cause those exact behaviors in children. When we found that the programming we have been providing is the best way to mitigate the effects of lead exposure, we increased our efforts.”
As Flint continues to move forward toward clean, readily available drinking water, it’s clear that even when things return to normal, the impact of the Crim Fitness Foundation will be felt on the community for years to come.